I see in movies and television that depression is depicted as if nothing matters, and all someone struggling with depression wants to do is be lazy and lay in bed eating ice cream.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that, at least for me, the feeling is closer to knowing everything is important (often more so than it actually is), wanting to get out and see your friends and family, wanting to turn in the assignment for school or work on time, wanting to do all those things that a ‘normal’ person does, and simply feeling powerless to do so under the weight of the depression. It becomes more and more challenging to complete even simple tasks like getting showered and ready for the day or even getting out of bed in the morning.
And I’m one of the lucky ones; I have a supportive family, friends who understand me, and a background in Psychology that helps me be open about my situation and pull myself (with the support of my loved ones, of course) out of the deeper depths of my depression, but for those who aren’t as lucky or who don’t know how to reach out for help, depression can quickly turn into a vicious downward spiral leading to potentially dangerous outcomes.
How to Tell if a Friend or Loved One is Suffering from Depression
Of course, only a trained mental health professional can diagnose someone with depression after an exhaustive assessment process. However, just because you aren’t sure whether someone has an official diagnosis or not doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive all the same.
If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depression, be on the lookout for the main visible symptoms such as:
- Loss of Interest in Spending Time with Friends & Family –Many times, people suffering from depression may lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed, or they may find it more challenging to get motivated to spend time with others, including friends and family.
- Increased Fatigue and Other Sleep Problems – Depression can have a noticeable effect on energy levels and sleep patterns. Someone struggling with depression may sleep more than usual, spending all day in bed. However, others may lay in bed at night for hours, unable to ‘turn off their brains.’
- Uncontrollable Emotions – Many people think that depression is defined by overwhelming sadness, but the reality is much more complicated than that. Each person reacts differently to the emotional weight of depression and can exhibit a range of emotions from sadness to anger to frustration. While everyone feels a range of emotions throughout the day, if the feelings are erratic or uncontrollable, it may be a sign of depression.
If you notice these warning signs, it may be a sign of depression, or it may simply be a sign of regular changes such as changing interests as we age, tiredness due to other health-related causes, or any number of issues. It is always important to be empathetic and gentle when dealing with mental health issues, and especially so when dealing with someone who may not be comfortable opening up about their mental health journey.
A straightforward way to help break through the barrier and start an honest mental health conversation with a friend or a loved one is just to ask twice.
Helpful Resources for Learning About Depression
Wanting to help someone cope with their mental health struggles is a noble goal. However, to be truly helpful, we need to understand what their mental health struggles involve.
The ‘psychology’ we see on television and movies is often quite far from what these diseases and disorders are like in real life, and basing our ‘help’ on what we have seen in pop culture can be useless at best, and may even cause more harm in the long run.
Before talking to your friend or loved one about depression, take some time to learn about this disease and try to understand what they are going through.
Here are some helpful resources for learning about depression:
Read Official Information from the National Medical Institutions
The National Institute of Mental Health, part of the United States’ Department of Health and Human Services, is the leading U.S. agency dedicated to conducting research on mental health disorders. The information provided on their website comes from some of the rigorous research undertaken by some of the nation’s top mental health experts.
They offer incredibly detailed information on almost every aspect of depression, including definitions, symptoms, treatment information, and additional resources, which can serve as a comprehensive starting point for learning about mental health and depression.
For our friends in England, the NHS offers a similar resource as well.
Read the Stories of People Living with Depression
Even with an exhaustive study of the medical literature available on depression, without understanding the disease from the perspective of those who live with it every day, you won’t have a full appreciation of what your friend or loved one is going through.
Here are a few of the places where you can read personal stories about what it is like living with depression:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America – This organization is focused on “improving quality of life for those with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and co-occurring disorders through education, practice, and research.” The ADAA has a collection of short testimonials, 500-words or less, dating back to 2009.
- Beyond Blue – This organization based in Australia states that it is dedicated to people “understand that…feelings can change. We want to equip [people] with the skills they need to look after their own mental health and wellbeing, and to create confidence in their ability to support those around them.”
- Time to Change – According to their website, Time to Change “is a growing social movement working to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems.” Here you can view a collection of personal stories about living with depression.
Resources You Can Use to Help Someone with Depression
Now, equipped with a more accurate understanding of depression and what it is like to live with the symptoms of this mental health issue, you may want to reach out and support your friend or loved one. Luckily, there are plenty of resources specifically for people suffering from depression.
There are too many to list here, but this should help you start a conversation and help guide you on your journey of learning and support:
Help Managing Depression
The first step towards helping a friend or loved one with depression may be to help them understand what they are going through themselves. For many individuals, especially if they have not been diagnosed, they may not fully understand the symptoms they are feeling, or they may misunderstand the disease entirely. Starting a conversation and finding helpful resources for managing depression can be an essential step towards building better mental health habits.
There are plenty of resources available for understanding and finding support for depression.
- National Institute of Mental Health – Shareable Resources for Depression
- American Psychiatric Association – Resources for Depression
Help Finding Mental Health Providers
If symptoms are negatively affecting their daily activities, it may be time to visit a mental health professional. For someone who has, or might have depression, this may seem like an insurmountable task.
Trying to determine the best choice between the different types of mental health and medical professionals can be a dizzying task, and trying to understand the various types of treatment options can be overwhelming.
With these resources, you may be able to help your friend or loved one over the hump and finally reach out for the help they need.
- National Institute of Mental Health – Finding Help for Depression
- Mayo Clinic – Tips on Finding a Mental Health Provider
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Many who are suffering from depression are able to manage their symptoms and live happy, fulfilling lives, but for some, depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm or even suicide. It is estimated that nearly 50% of people who die by suicide each year were suffering from major depression at the time of their death.
There are many resources available for people who are having thoughts of self-harm. The National Institute of Mental Health provides information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline resource on their website:
- “Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).”
Additional resources such as this can be found here.
Depression can be a serious mental health issue. If you think you, a friend, or a loved one might be suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to start a conversation with a mental health professional.
There are plenty of resources available for people living with depression, and those looking to support them—but those resources should always be used as an addition to, and never as a replacement for, the advice of trained medical professionals.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.