Depression is a difficult topic to broach, even among family and friends. Regardless of what your experiences might be with depression, talking to someone else about their depression is not easy. You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, about egging them on, misinterpreting their words, or just not knowing what to say, and ending the conversation awkwardly in dead silence.
To get one thing out of the way, it is better to talk about depression than it is to ignore it and hope it goes away. Much like suicide, this isn’t a topic that should be taboo. The fear that talking about it promotes it is misplaced, and the truth is that being more open about depression and suicide in the family can help someone facing these issues feel that their thoughts and struggles are accepted, and that they can seek help and treatment without being judged.
Cultural differences in particular make it very difficult for some individuals to approach others and talk about depression. In highly religious circles, it may be common to hear that the only answer to depression is to pray – or that being depressed is a sign you aren’t faithful enough. These thoughts can be very harmful and make things like depression a dangerous topic for families looking to avoid stigma within a larger religious community.
Other cultures feel that depression is not a real medical issue, but a personality flaw, or a form of weakness. This misconception and many others like it stoke fear and anxiety in those with depression who don’t know where to turn, or how to deal with their depressive thoughts. If you want to help a loved one who is struggling with depression, you have to be prepared and understanding.
Ask and Listen
People who struggle with depression struggle with an inner voice that urges them to feel worse, voicing thoughts of self-loathing, pessimism, and negativity. Depression may manifest itself mildly, such as in the form of a consistent yet mild low mood, or in the form of severe suicidal ideation, self-harm, and attempted suicide.
More often than not, people who are facing thoughts of depression do their best to hide these thoughts as much as they can from others. Some don’t want to be fussed over, while others fear the backlash of being diagnosed with a mental illness, or just don’t want the label of depression hanging over them. It can be difficult to identify depression in others, especially if they’re good to acting happy or at “functioning” despite a constant barrage of self-deprecation.
This is why it’s important to assuage their fears of being judged or ridiculed by being forthright about your intentions – you want to help and understand them, not put them in a category or criticize them for their behavior. Ask, don’t preach. Listen, don’t judge. Instead of saying something like “why are you depressed when you have such a great life?”, ask them: “how has your depression affected your routine?”. Instead of asking “why don’t you just take a vacation/go to the gym/cheer up”, ask something like: “what’s been helping you with the depression/how is your treatment going?”
How Much Do You Know?
Being prepared for a conversation about depression simply entails knowing a little bit about the disease, first. It helps to generally understand what depression is before you talk to someone who may be struggling with it. They will appreciate it much more if it’s apparent that you’ve done a little homework on depression before quizzing them about their mental health and state of mind.
The gist of depression is that it’s a mental disorder, from a category known as mood disorders. These are a variety of syndromes and diagnoses related to aberrant moods, either a chronically low mood (depression) or a dangerously high mood (mania). Most mood disorders are a form of depression, and they come in many different shapes and sizes. Some forms of depression are mild, but last years. Others coincide with a person’s period. Others yet are dependent on a biological event, such as pregnancy, or linked to changes in the season, such as winter depression.
Depression is not just feeling sad about something. Neither is it depression when someone is spending a lot of time grieving over the death of a loved one, although there are ways to help someone overcome complex or long-term grief. Depression is usually signified as a low mood without cause, lasting longer than two weeks. It’s not something that can just go away after getting cheered up, and it’s not something fixed simply through hugs and kisses, although they do help.
Understanding these basic facts – it isn’t the person’s fault, it doesn’t have a clear cause like normal sadness, and it can manifest in different ways – can help a lot when talking about depression with someone who is living through it.
Ensure It Isn’t a Taboo
Making depression a taboo topic at home or elsewhere ensures that anyone going through a depression feels alienated, blocked out, and unwanted. Their problems are silenced rather than addressed, and the hopelessness they may already be experiencing as a symptom of their condition is amplified by the lack of support coming from those they love and care about.
Talking about depression won’t make others catch the disorder or worsen their symptoms. Misunderstanding and misrepresenting the disorder can make someone with depression feel much worse about themselves, but that is solved through education and information gathering, rather than staying silent and refusing to learn more about the condition.
Clarify that it’s okay to talk about depression at home, and that your loved one’s condition isn’t something you want to ignore or silence but treat.
Treatment works, although it’s not always obvious which treatment is going to work. Treatment approaches to depression usually rely on psychiatrists identifying what works best and what doesn’t work, starting with therapy and antidepressants, and moving on towards other recommendations, including mindfulness and meditation, spending time with pets, regular exercise, and more.
Antidepressants come in different brands and categories, each either functioning differently or utilizing a different chemical composition to achieve the same effect. Medication that might work on some might not work with others or could have side effects ranging from sexual dysfunction to rapid weight gain. A psychiatrist will usually prescribe different medications in an effort to identify the right kind of drug, one with no lasting side effects and the right kind of efficacy.
Treatment-resistant depression can still be treated, through alternative therapies and treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation and aromatherapy. It may take some time to find the right treatment path, but once the right treatment is found, quality of life can improve significantly.