Finding out that a loved one has been diagnosed with having depression may make you uncomfortable, surprised, saddened, angry, compassionate and/or more understanding of the person. It can be awkward finding out not knowing much about depression, especially when there are stigmas attached to the illness. With more understanding of major depressive disorder, you will be able to help your companion in a caring and supportive way that is beneficial to you both. Don’t mistake the symptoms as being a part of their character; you may see signs that you would characterize as out of character and it may well be that what you are witnessing is the symptoms of this serious mood disorder.
Many people, including people who suffer from major depressive disorder otherwise known as clinical depression, believe that they can will their way out of the illness. This is not so. It is not a matter of weakness on the person’s part; it takes a lot of strength to get through the toughest days with hope for getting better. For most people the illness is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression can be hereditary meaning other people in the family suffer from it. It can also be due to difficult life circumstances that requires medial help for learning how to deal with the despair and other discomfort that the symptoms of the illness cause.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder
There isn’t a specific test that can measure and diagnose depression. It is only when the symptoms have lasted more than two weeks that a person should see a medical care provider as soon as possible. These symptoms include:
- Body pains (unexplained)
- Change in appetite
- Weight gain/loss
- Rumination about suicide
- Memory lapses
- Over sleeping
- Lack of concentration
Because some of these symptoms don’t present as the common perception of depression as deep sadness, many people don’t get the help that they need to prevent the illness from getting worse. Sufferers may not understand that what they are experiencing are the debilitating symptoms of major depressive disorder. Alarmingly, most people who suffer from depression aren’t receiving help the help that they need. Help comes from friends, family, psychiatrists, family doctors and counselors. There are a few ways to treat depression and some in combination with one another. Both children and adults can be diagnosed with depression, but it is more common in women aged 40-59. Depression can affect any kind of person though it may be more common in people who are living in poverty.
How do I react when someone tells me they have been diagnosed with depression?
Depression is an illness just like any other; you can respond with the same care and compassion as you would with someone with a different ailment. Many people fear mental illnesses, and this is partly due to old ways of thinking where any mental disorder labelled people as being crazy and irrational.
People who suffer from depression haven’t lost their mind and deserve to be taken seriously and without prejudice. The illness hasn’t changed the person who you know; the symptoms may make people sullen and withdrawn, you are not responsible for this. Being kind is helpful for the sufferer but leave it to health care professionals to treat and diagnose major depressive disorder.
Think about how you would like to be treated; put yourself in their shoes. You can use common sense and keep acting the same as you did before you found out your companion was ill. Depression can be somewhat contagious and there are steps you can take so that it doesn’t affect your day to day life.
Tips for dealing with a friend or family member with depression
Your close one may not be able to be the friend or loving family member you are used to when the symptoms of depression worsen. You may have to adjust your way of living if the person is your spouse or child living in your home. Being a caregiver can cause burnout if you don’t take care of yourself as well. You can work together while learning how to adapt to the changes. Helpful tips include:
- Talk positively to the person
- Avoid pessimism
- Don’t think that the worst will happen
- Know that the depression is not your fault
- Take time out for yourself
- Do the things you like to do
- Don’t take on the role of a health professional
- Call or text just to say hi
- Get help for yourself from a therapist
It may be tempting to give up on a person when they are in the depths of depression, but this is the worst time to do this; it is when they need you the most. At it’s worst people become more isolated, lacking motivation to get help and suffer from low self-esteem. It can be difficult for them to get out of bed some days. Understand that they have not rejected you; they are having difficulty in all areas of their life such as work, school and other relationships. Ask if you can do small things that they cannot do for themselves like grocery shopping, making doctor’s appointments, accompanying your companion to medical visits and making meals.
You don’t need to help the person suffering from clinical depression on your own. There are several therapies available for treating depression that have differing perspectives on what causes depression and how to best treat it. One misconception about people with depression is that they are addicted to anti-depressants or “happy pills”. This is not true.
- Biological perspective– from this area of study doctors believe that depression is a symptom of a physical disorder caused by biochemical or structural abnormality in the brain or genetics. Treatment is prescribed after diagnosing like a physical disorder. Treatment includes anti-depressants and other drugs, electroconvulsive therapy and/or psychosurgery.
- Psychodynamic perspective– the illness is caused by a traumatic childhood, unresolved conflicts that are sexual or aggressive in nature, and an imbalance between the ego, superego and the id. The therapist will bring repressed material into the open and help the client better cope with unconscious conflicts. E.g. psychoanalysis
- Learning perspective-abnormal thoughts, feelings and behaviours have been learned and continue to be acted upon; there has been a failure to learn appropriate behaviours. Therapy includes the use of classical, modelling and operant conditioning to eliminate the unwanted behaviours and increase the desired behaviour. E.g. behaviour therapy and behavioural modification
- Cognitive perspective– the belief is that wrong thinking can cause psychological disorders. The goal of the therapist and client is to change irrational and/or faulty thinking. Beck’s cognitive therapy, rational-emotive therapy
- Humanistic perspective– The blocking of the tendency towards self-actualization causes a psychological disorder. The therapist will encourage self-acceptance and self-understanding and to help the client become more inner-directed. Client-centred therapy, Gestalt therapy.
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When your friend or family member goes to the doctor for therapy, they will most likely receive help using one or more of these perspectives. For some clients, the treatment works immediately but for some it takes some time to get the right medication for them. Some medicines have side effects that just don’t agree with some people. In fact, sometimes an antidepressant can make a person worse. In this case the person will have to be weaned off the medicine and try another one. The new medication may take up to six weeks before the client notices a difference.
Keep in touch
It would be beneficial to your companion for you to be patient and encouraging throughout the treatment process. There may be some days when they could really use your help to motivate them to get to the doctor with some help. They may become too tired and unmotivated to go on other days and it is just seemingly impossible to go; encourage them to at least call the doctor if they can to cancel the appointment. You may not believe it but sometimes it even becomes too much for a person suffering from depression to pick up the phone to call or text anybody.
Stay positive and remain hopeful that your loved one will be back to normal soon. It may be a long process before they are able to function well in areas of relationships, school or work and with your help they will be well on their way in their recovery journey.
Remember to take care of yourself and don’t take the illness personally. It isn’t your fault and there is help available to treat this under treated and serious medical condition. Mental illness may be invisible, but its symptoms are real.