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Recognizing and Responding to Depression in Others

Recognizing and Responding to Depression in Others

Everyone experiences moments when they don’t feel “happy,” but for people suffering from depression these low moods last a long time. Important facts to remember:

  • Depression can happen to a person of any age, race, gender or social background.
  • Some well-meaning responses to depression can actually exacerbate a person’s symptoms.

Symptoms of Depression

According to the National Institutes of Health, depression doesn’t affect everyone the same way or last the same amount of time. Many people don’t experience the classic symptoms associated with this condition, such as overwhelming sadness and disinterest in pleasurable activities. Other symptoms that can occur separately or together include:

– Feeling empty, anxious, helpless, worthless, guilty and/or irritable
– Cognitive problems with decision-making, memory and/or concentration
– Insomnia, chronic fatigue and/or oversleeping
– A constantly negative outlook with or without anger
– Sudden weight gain or loss

The Individual Experience

Many people don’t recognize or refuse to believe that they’re depressed. Some people pretend that everything is fine. According to a Healthline article titled “11 Effects of Depression on the Body,” many people with depression numb their symptoms with alcohol and/or drugs. It’s commonly known that some people also increase their hobbies or workload to “stay busy” and get out of what they see as merely a rut, or they tell themselves that they’re “burnt out” and in need of a vacation. “Burnout” is considered a depression symptom by some doctors, but the common use of the phrase has made it appear less severe and merely a byproduct of modern life.

Cultural Stigmas and Norms

Depression has been historically considered a weakness of the mind instead of a problem with the body. Yet, modern researchers have proven that depression happens for a variety of reasons related to chemical imbalances, genetic problems, other physical conditions like tumors and external environmental factors. Another commonly promoted false belief is that symptoms are the result of normal aging processes. Many older people tell younger depressed people that symptoms are temporary, normal and likely the result of hormone changes, boredom or physical inactivity.

Responding to Depression

It’s important to promote improved health and well-being. Telling someone you know or love that they need to get more sunlight, eat healthier, take a specific supplement, exercise daily or any number of other do-it-yourself treatments can cause more harm than good. Some depressed people have already tried these methods. Some might feel misunderstood and/or withdrawal further from their social circles. Determining the source of depression isn’t always easy. Someone that has Seasonal Affective Disorder might respond well to light therapy, but he/she might need other therapies because of a past trauma that is affecting them today. As noted by Faith Deeter in an article for PBS titled “How to Talk With Someone You Love When They Are Depressed,” you should never dismiss a depressed person’s feelings or imply that they’re wrong in some way, such as lazy, crazy or attention-seeking. Instead, you should allow them talk about their needs and remind them of their value. Additionally, ask how you can help. If you feel someone is thinking about self-harm, ask them without any tone of accusation and then, if necessary, guide them to a professional for medical treatment.

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