Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. An estimated 20 percent of Americans will experience depression at some point in his or her lifetime, which means it’s extremely likely that someone close to you will experience depression at some point. Someone close to you might be depressed now and you don’t even know it. Many people with depression are able to hide their symptoms and carry on as normal despite feeling miserable. Even more alarming, about a third of Americans know someone who has died by suicide. If someone close to you has depression, here are some ways you can help.
Perhaps the most important thing is to stay calm and don’t judge. Although we’ve made a lot of progress in our perceptions of mental health in recent years, a stigma still remains and depression is hard for many people to talk about. If your friend opens up to you, it’s a sign of trust so show her that her confidence in you is justified.
Know the basics about depression.
There are still many misconceptions about depression that people take for fact. One of the most pernicious is that depression is all in your head and that people with depression should just buck up or get over it. In reality, depression is as much physical as it is mental. Common symptoms include headaches, weight loss, body aches, fatigue, slow movements, disturbed sleep. Depression has been linked to structural changes in the brain, changes in levels of neurotransmitters, and, more recently, inflammatory diseases. In short, it’s crucial to know that depression is a physical illness that requires treatment.
Listen to what she says.
When your friend opens up to you about her depression, she’s probably not looking for advice, unless you happen to be a mental health expert. More than likely, she wants someone to listen and understand she’s having a hard time. Listen to what she says, ask questions, and try to understand. Let her know you’re there to support her in any way you can.
Encourage her to ask for help.
One of the questions you should definitely ask is whether she has sought professional help. If her symptoms have lasted two weeks or more, she may meet the clinical criteria for depression. Many people with depression are reluctant to seek help, either because they don’t think it will do any good, they’re embarrassed about it, or they’re just too exhausted to do the work of finding a therapist. Encourage her to get help and offer to help her if necessary, perhaps by looking for a therapist, making her an appointment, or giving her a ride.
Stay in touch.
One common effect of depression is that you want to isolate yourself. Unfortunately, this is counterproductive, since it only makes the depressed person feel more isolated and insignificant. Her friends may misinterpret this and think she’s putting them off. So it’s important to keep reaching out and inviting her to do things, even if she often declines or backs out. It’s good to know someone cares.
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