About 8% of all adults and 6.5% of youth and children in Canada, and about 16% of adults worldwide will experience clinical depression or anxiety. In the United States, suicide is the tenth leading cause for death for those aged ten and older. In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 10-24. Depression is the cause of about 60% of these deaths.
Suicide is a preventable tragedy and depression is a curable illness. Unfortunately, the majority still believes that depression is a personal weakness, and yet most people will also have someone close to them suffer from this mental illness. What do we do, then, when one of our friends or family falls into depression?
1. Understand that depression and other mental illnesses are not decisions of the victim
Mental illnesses are caused by many different things. Environmental, biological and personal factors all play into the development of depression. Some strains of depression, such as bipolar disorder are highly heritable. Neurotransmitters, brain signals, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are greatly imbalanced and cause physiological changes in sleep patterns, appetite, as well as difficulties in concentration and stress management.
2. Ask them to help you understand
Every case of depression is different. And especially if you have not personally experienced depression first hand, it can be difficult to understand their position. Be patient and ask them to explain their emotions, but be sure not to press them to reveal more than they are comfortable revealing. Don’t take anything they say too personally, and never lash out at them in anger or in fear. When giving advice, tell them to try small, practical things instead of just to “get over it”.
3. Clear up clutter
Those who struggle with depression often struggle to simply get out of bed and pull together enough energy to make it through the day. Clutter simply makes their day more stressful and confusing. Taking a few minutes to organize their desk or to do their dishes would lift a huge load off their shoulders.
4. Cook them a healthy meal
One of the symptoms of depression is change in appetite. Either they feel hungry all the time, or they may simply forget to eat. Sitting down with them for a proper meal really helps to set them back on a regular eating schedule, at least temporarily. Even if they do not struggle with this particular symptom, it is common for those who feel stressed and tired to simply order out or settle with fast food. A healthy meal will not only lift the burden of cooking off their shoulders, even if just for one meal, but provide them with the proper nutrition and energy to face the rest of the day.
5. Bring them outside
Fresh air is important for anyone, especially those who are susceptible to seasonal affective disorder. Taking them for a walk around the park or eating at an outdoor cafe is a wonderful way to reinvigorate them, as well as showing that you care. This not only helps boost their vitamin D production and clear their mind, but also give them a chance to do some light exercise which many depressed people cannot find the energy to do.
6. Do not force them into any unnecessary activity that they feel uncomfortable doing
Interaction with others is very important, and without caring relationships, anyone could fall into depression. However, when people develop depression, it can be difficult to keep up proper relationships with others, thus cutting off potential support. The cure for this is not going to a party, or simply to interact with more people. In fact it would probably be quite difficult and energy-consuming for them to interact properly with too many strangers and acquaintances in one day. On the other hand, a close circle of reliable friends and family who are caring and understanding will help them get through each day.
7. Gently sway them away from depressive attributions
Normally people have what is called self-serving bias: attributing successes to personal characteristics and attributing failures to environmental factors. Those with depression often reverse this, and attributing successes to environmental factors and blaming themselves for failures. If you find them blaming themselves for something that is clearly not their fault, gently remind them of the truth.
8. Bring them to professional help
Depression is a treatable illness, and bringing them to a therapist or psychiatrist will be very helpful for both you and for them. A Therapist is able to help adjust thinking patterns and make specific suggestions, while a psychiatrist can also prescribe medication if needed. Medication is sometimes necessary to balance factors in the nervous system so that someone with depression can function properly and think clearer, thus having a better chance of developing healthy emotional, psychological and behavioural patterns.
9. Educate yourself on the signs of suicide
Suicide is not a sudden death. People who commit suicide almost always leave clues or even call for help before their attempts, such as hinting about death or giving away possessions. Any suggestion of suicide should be taken seriously. Contrary to popular belief, confronting someone about suicide does not plant the idea in their head. Instead, a safety barrier is formed when someone has an emergency plan – relaxation techniques, a list of people or anonymous numbers to call, the reassurance that it is perfectly fine to call 911 or walk into an emergency room if one feels suicidal.
10. Don’t offer more than you can give
Offer to help, as there are many other things that you could do, but only offer what you personally are able to give. If you do not deliver on what you offer, you will only strain your relationship with your loved one, and they may no longer trust you, or believe that they are burdening you.
No one should have to suffer depression or any other mental illness alone, but neither should one person bear the responsibility or caring for them. A network of trustworthy people can prove to be a precious gift to anyone, especially those suffering a depressive disorder.
I hope that this article presented some practical tips for you and your loved ones. There is no one perfect solution for depression, but it is certainly curable when handled with love, patience, and understanding.