Clinical depression is an affliction of the mind, body and spirit that affects over 17 million Americans. If you are the partner, parent, child or friend of someone who is undergoing a depressive episode, the pain of seeing a loved one in the depths of clinical depression can be almost as torturous as being depressed oneself. Your understanding of the illness and how you relate to the patient can either support or deter his or her ability to get well. Here are some important ways in which you can help the healing process.
1) If a friend or family member's activity and outlook on life starts to descend and stays down not just a few days, but for weeks, depression may be the cause. The first way you can be of support is to help the person to recognize that there is a problem. This is especially crucial, since many people fail to realize that they are depressed. Begin by encouraging your friend to share his or her feelings with you. Contrary to myth, talking about depression makes things better, not worse. Once it becomes clear that something is amiss, you can suggest that he or she seek professional help. (This is critical since only one third of people with mood disorders ever receive treatment.)
You can be of further support by accompanying your friend to his initial doctor's or therapist's appointment and subsequently monitoring his or her medication. In addition, explain that seeking help for depression does not imply a lack of emotional strength or moral character. On the contrary, it takes both courage and wisdom to know when one is in need of assistance.
2) Educate yourself about the illness, whether it is depression, manic depression, anxiety, etc. Learn about symptoms of the illness and how to tell when they are improving. Your feedback to the psychiatrist or therapist about how your friend is faring will help him or her to assess if a particular treatment is working.
3) Provide emotional support. Remember, what a person suffering from depression needs most is compassion and understanding. Exhortations to "snap out of it" or "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" are counterproductive. The best communication is simply to ask, "How can I be of support?" or "How can I help?"
4) Provide physical support. Often this means participating with your friend in low-stress activities-taking walks, watching movies, going out to eat-that will provide an uplifting focus. In other instances you can ease the depressed person's burden by helping with the daily routines-running errands, doing shopping, taking the kids out for pizza, cooking, vacuuming the carpet, etc. Read more...