Figuring out how to help someone with depression or anxiety can be an extremely delicate and difficult task.
Especially when it is a loved one and there are likely a myriad of emotions running through you.
Additionally, depression affects everyone differently and sometimes it can be hard to know what the best thing to do is or even to recognize the signs in the first place!
While no small task, we hope this guidance can help you get started.
What is Depression?
Broadly speaking, depression is a mood disorder that affects how you feel, think, and act.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression affects over 17,000,000 American adults every year. That’s over 7% of the population.
There are several different types of depression. Some of the most common ones are:
- Major Depression (also known as major depressive disorder)
- Persistent Depressive Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Postpartum Depression
Depression is very different than sadness.
Sadness is a situational emotion that occurs in response to something. However, depression doesn’t always have a specific cause.
Furthermore, a major characteristic of depression is a duration of more than two weeks. Meanwhile, sadness is fleeting and will often come and go.
In addition to a specific trigger and duration, here are a few other signs of depression to look out for.
Signs of Depression
Different people will show different signs of depression depending on their personality, background, culture, etc.
Moreover, the image of depression portrayed by films, tv, and pop culture often exaggerate the what depression really looks like.
Let’s look at the formal criteria for diagnosing major depressive disorder, though please note only a trained psychologist or psychiatrist may formally diagnose depression:
- Depressed mood most of the day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
- Significant weight loss when not dieting, or increase in appetite
- A slowing down of thought and reduction of physical movement
- Fatigue or general loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death
If you have five or more of these symptoms during a 2-week period, and they are severe enough that they are causing impairment in social or occupational areas of your life, you may be dealing with depression.
These are the formal symptoms of depression for medical diagnosis, however there are some other signs you will want to look out for if you suspect somebody might be struggling:
- Turning down invitations more often than usual
- Much more sleepy or fatigued than usual
- Generally sluggish, or their memory is off
- Lack interest in the things they used to love
- Diet changes (they might be eating much more or much less than usual)
- They’re more irritable
- They make passively suicidal comments
- Decreased sexual drive
While the signs listed above can be good indicators, it’s important to remember that some people may display them differently than others.
In addition, some individuals may still be extremely high functioning and seemingly not display particular sever depression symptoms.
Simply put, high-functioning depression is a type of depression that does not interfere as much with daily life as major depressive disorder.
This can mean better coping mechanisms, less severe symptoms, or a combination of the two.
While severe depression can be debilitating and inhibit everyday activity, people with high-functioning depression are often able to go about their daily lives (hence the term “high-functioning”).
Because many individuals with high-functioning depression may be less inclined to seek help for their symptoms, statistics and data for this variation of the condition can be hard to come by.
Furthermore, the signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression can be harder to spot as they are less severe. So while someone may have many of the common symptoms of depression, they may not get a formal diagnosis since their symptoms are mostly lower grade or hard to recognize.
Some symptoms of high-functioning depression include:
- Changes in diet
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
- Seeking perfection
- Lower sense of self esteem
- Chronic low energy
- Frequent self-criticism and pessimism
- Avoidance of social activities
- Emptiness or feeling down
- Decreased productivity
- Feelings of guilt over the past
While many of these symptoms are similar to major depression, the biggest difference between the two are how much they interfere in daily life.
Is Depression Genetic?
Some research has shown that depression tends to run in families. However, experts haven’t yet been able to fully confirm whether or not it’s hereditary.
One study from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry found that people who had a parent or sibling with depression were three times as likely to develop the condition themselves.
However, experts still don’t fully understand if this is because of genetic or environmental reasons.
So, the simple answer to “is depression genetic?” is probably.
However, more research needs to be done to determine how much is nature vs. nurture.
Am I Depressed?
We all feel sad sometimes. With all of the different types and symptoms associated with depression, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between sadness and depression.
While this is definitely not a hard and fast rule, a good place to start is to think back to where your negative feelings started. Broadly speaking, if you can identify a “cause” for your negative feelings (i.e. you’re going through a breakup, a family member passed away, etc) then it is more likely sadness that will pass with time.
That said, if your negative feelings seem to have come out of nowhere, you have many of the symptoms outlined above, and they’ve been persisting for several weeks at a time, you may want to get an evaluation for depression.
Again, this is not a hard rule. Sometimes life events can happen that put us in a funk for long periods of time, and it’s always a good idea to talk to someone if you suspect you may be struggling with depression.
Seeking Help for Your Depression
If you believe you are suffering from depression it is important to get professional help.
Oftentimes, people with high-functioning or milder forms of depression think they don’t need help because they aren’t severely depressed or suicidal. This absolutely should not be the case.
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies perfectly here – don’t wait for things to get worse.
The first step to getting treatment for depression usually involves speaking to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.
From there, your psychiatrist can recommend a treatment plan that is appropriate for your individual situation. This may involve additional therapy, medication or a combination of both.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and need more immediate support, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Everything you tell them is completely confidential and wait times are usually under one minute.
But what if it’s not you dealing with these symptoms but someone you know?
How to Help Someone With Depression
Helping a loved one with depression requires more than just patience and empathy.
It requires listening, guidance, and a foundation of trust with the individual. Here are some tips on navigating how to help someone with depression.
The first thing you can do is to learn about the condition. Learning the signs and symptoms of depression will help you understand and recognize someone who may need help.
This might seem like a given, but educating yourself on mental health can really make a difference in helping someone who’s depressed.
Be There for Support
Depression can make everyday life feel overwhelming.
Because of this, someone who’s depressed may find it difficult to be alone or handle the basic tasks of daily living.
Helping with everyday tasks and offering unconditional support with your presence can go a long way to let the person know they’re cared for.
Don’t offer unsolicited opinions or advice about what they need or should do. Just be there as a friend and offer to help out where you can or when they ask for it.
Guide Them Towards Professional Help
Ultimately, you are likely not a professional.
And to really help a loved one suffering from depression, you need a professional.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with talking to a psychiatrist (especially for men) and treatment can be expensive even with insurance.
Offer your unconditional support and guidance until they either ask for help or an opportunity presents itself for you to make a suggestion in a safe manner.
In many cases, suggesting somebody get professional help will be met with confrontation. However, if you are sincere and make it clear that you are supportive regardless of their decision/situation then you will be able to defuse most confrontations.
What to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed
Figuring out what to say to someone who is depressed can be extremely difficult but necessary if you feel something needs to be done immediately.
Here are a few tips.
Don’t Beat Around the Bush
It is important to be direct but not confrontational when bringing up a sensitive subject like mental health.
Tone is key here — don’t be patronizing, but don’t be overly blunt about it. Evaluate your relationship with the person and speak to them normally.
Saying something like “It seems like you’ve been going through a lot lately. What’s on your mind?” is a non-intrusive, but direct way to reach out to someone who might be struggling.
“I’m here for you”
These words can go a long way.
People who are depressed often feel a profound sense of loneliness and lack self worth. However, letting them know that they have someone they can count on can alleviate those negative feelings.
Offering unconditional support can sometimes be all a person needs to seek help.
Remind Them of Their Worth
Someone who’s depressed might struggle with feelings of worthlessness. Reminding them how important they are to you can be a very effective way to help remind them how valuable they are.
It may also be beneficial to remind them of times they’ve helped you in the past. Doing this can remind them that they’re helpful and contribute positively to the lives of people around them.
“Have you tried talking to a professional?”
As we mentioned above, you are not a professional.
If you feel a person is suffering from serious depression, your goal should be to get them the help they need.
Although there can sometimes be a stigma against talking to a therapist or psychiatrist, offering non-judgmental reminders that there’s nothing wrong with going to therapy can help alleviate any feelings of embarrassment they might feel.
Sometimes the best thing to say to somebody suffering from depression is nothing at all.
Being a listening ear and somebody who genuinely cares can sometimes be all the person needs to help them either through a tough time or find the professional help they need.
When it comes to a highly sensitive topic such as mental health, there aren’t any magical words that’ll take it away.
How To Overcome Depression
There is no pill, quote, or phrase that will immediately teach you how to overcome depression. The best thing you can do for yourself or to help someone with depression is get them to talk with a professional!
*If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal and needs immediate support, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “Help” to 741-741.*