When we talk about depression, we are usually referring to unipolar depression. However, there are actually two different types of depression: unipolar and bipolar. Both types can share very similar symptoms, particularly in the beginning, but actually are traced to different biological circumstances. Depression should be diagnosed and treated by a professional for the best chance of recovery. If you have a friend or family member with unipolar depression, understanding how to help them can be a challenge.
Unipolar depression, or ‘major depression,’ is understood to be the most common type of depression. It is associated with symptoms such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns, feelings of depression that last longer than two weeks, and an ongoing lack of motivation. It can be caused by a number of factors, from traumatic events such as death or injury to chronic stress. Some people are more vulnerable to depression than others. And although the condition can be treated, it is not viewed as curable.
It’s not always easy to identify someone with depression, because brief periods of feeling depressed are normal, especially in response to certain difficult situations. So how can you tell when someone is experiencing sadness and when they are clinically depressed? Keep in mind that only a medical professional can adequately diagnose depression. However, there are signs and symptoms that you may notice when someone is battling depression:
- Loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed
- Change in eating and sleeping habits
- Irritability and moodiness
- Feelings of worthlessness or a lack of self-confidence
- Disinterest in personal grooming
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Expressions of sadness or hopelessness
There’s no formula for depression; some people may display all of these symptoms, others only some of them, and others still may have different symptoms altogether. It’s not your job as a friend to diagnose depression, but you can pick up on the signs. Typically when symptoms last for two weeks or longer you may be looking at clinical depression. Depression is a persistent, ongoing condition that can benefit from professional treatment.
Helping someone with depression
Watching someone close to you deal with depression can leave you both feeling helpless. Depression can come on slowly or quickly and the risk of suicide is a possibility. That’s why it’s so important to let the person know that they are not alone and that they are loved and valued. There are many ways to help someone with depression as they work through recovery.
Depression is a widely misunderstood mental illness, despite its prevalence. Do some research to give yourself a better understanding of what someone with depression goes through and how treatment works.
Be careful with language
If someone’s having a bad day you may be inclined to remind them to smile, or even suggest that they ‘snap out of it.’ When someone has depression, these phrases are not helpful. In fact, they dismiss the gravity of depression, treating it as something that can be overcome with willpower. Depression is not the result of a weak mind; it is a chemical and biological condition that can strike without warning.
Offer your support
People with depression often feel alone and reject the offers of help from those around them. In some cases, that leads to friends and family members withdrawing, to the point where that person feels more alone than before. Taking a step back and waiting for the person to ‘get back to normal’ isn’t the best way to handle the situation. Make sure they know that you are there for them, every step of the way, and won’t take off if things get hard. Talk to them to let them know they aren’t alone.
Look into reputable treatment programs and talk to the person about entering treatment (if they have not already done so). You can make appointments to visit treatment facilities and break down the mental barriers to treatment that exist for many people who often are afraid to ask for help due to prevailing stigma.
Watch for warning signs
There are frequently warning signs when someone is contemplating suicide. This can include a sudden fascination with death or dying, risky behavior, giving away possessions, talking about suicide, or even saying goodbye to people. If these symptoms appear, don’t wait for them to go away. Call a suicide hotline, contact the person’s doctor, and keep them in safe surroundings.
Depression shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to destroy your life. Many people do recover from depression and go on to lead happy, healthy lives. The more we understand the symptoms and treatment possibilities for depression, the more people can be helped.
Ben Brafman, LMHC, CAP, is the Clinical Director, President and CEO of Destination Hope, Destination Hope: The Women’s Program and the Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center, nationally recognized substance abuse, dual diagnosis and mental health treatment facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With more than two decades of hands-on experience in the field of substance abuse and addiction, Ben is a leading authority on substance abuse, addiction and treatment protocols.