The stigma of depression
Depression is often a confusing condition, both for sufferers and those who love them. It’s also an often misunderstood illness, and unfortunately, still carries a lot of stigma. For this reason, many people who suffer from depression do so in silence, and rarely get the help they need. According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people suffer from clinical depression worldwide. When people are severely depressed and don’t know where to turn, the condition can lead to suicide.
Knowing the seriousness of this illness, what can loved ones do to help? Friends and family can certainly do their part to offer compassion and empathy to those who are suffering from mental illnesses. However, it’s important to remember that medical help should also be sought.
Treatment is needed for depression
There are several treatments available, and the mode of treatment will depend on the type of depression, as well as what caused the condition in the first place. For some people, depression is temporary and situational. For others, it’s recurrent and due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM—5) defines depression as a condition that causes “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” for longer than two weeks at a time. Patients frequently lose interest in things they once enjoyed. Depression can also manifest as chronic pain (and chronic pain may also cause depression).
Depression is not something people can simply “snap out of,” and telling friends and family to “cheer up” may do more harm than good. If you truly want to help someone who is experiencing depression, here are some things you can do:
Offer a judgment-free, listening ear.
For people who are depressed, hearing that someone cares about them may be helpful. Hearing that they are loved will not necessarily pull people out of a major depressive episode. However; it may be the opening they need to talk about getting professional help.
When the person is ready, suggest seeking help from a professional.
After opening up the conversation and getting the person comfortable with your non-judgmental, caring attitude, ask if the person would consider speaking to a doctor, counselor, or psychotherapist. Be ready to offer resources if the person is receptive.
Avoid using language that demeans the person’s experience.
Do not use words like “we all go through this,” or “it’s in your head.” Sometimes it’s difficult to understand someone’s depressive mood when we haven’t experienced it ourselves, or if we’re “glass half full” people. But unfortunately, using dismissive language can push someone further into depression, and can be a contributing factor in suicide risk.
Watch for signs of suicidal behaviour.
Signs of suicidal behaviour include retreating from previously enjoyed activities for long periods of time, giving away prized possessions, engaging in self-harm, and a preoccupation with death in conversations. If your loved one seems suicidal, talk lovingly to them about your concerns.
You can also encourage them to call a suicide prevention hotline. In the United States, the number is 1-800-273-TALK. In Canada, the number is 1-833-456-4566. For other countries, call the emergency contact number, or contact the International Association for Suicide Prevention. If you would like to be even more involved in suicide prevention, you can take a 2-day course through LivingWorks.