Depression is an insidious disease, and it’s very possible for someone to struggle with depression and not show it. One of the reasons mental health issues are so heavily stigmatized is because they’re less apparent. People who have never struggled with mental health issues might take the complaints and struggles of depressed people out of context, thinking that people who are depressed are simply weak-willed or incompetent. Unlike a physical disability like a missing limb or a shortened bone, depression doesn’t manifest in many obvious ways. And because people with depression can be stigmatized heavily for their behavior, they may go through great lengths to hide the issue from others.
That can go to such great lengths that even a person’s friends and family members might not realize, at first glance, that something is wrong. It’s normal to be sad after all, and because depression often develops in adolescence – at a time when teens are known to be volatile and irritable to begin with – it’s easy to mistake depression for a phase of sorts.
What is Depression?
Depression is not common sadness, or a normal reaction to events like loss or pain. While it’s important for us to live through and process our emotions whenever something negative happens, these emotions help us grow and define ourselves. Even pain has a teaching purpose. But depression is not sensible, or useful – it’s a senseless struggle with negativity and darkness that lasts at least two weeks and can go on for many years.
Depression can come and go to a degree or remain as a persistent low mood for years and is characterized by a lack of any actual source. People may grieve the loss of a loved one for several weeks, but if they find themselves unable to feel happiness and struggling with negativity long after everyone else has moved on, they may have triggered a depression. In other cases, depression can develop completely without an obvious starting point, manifesting one day as an inexplicable sadness.
Depression is one part of a longer list of issues called mood disorders – disorders in the brain with symptoms of unexplained sadness (low mood) and unexplained mania (high mood). Major depressive disorder is the most common mood disorder and involves at least two weeks of consistent low mood with no cause. Symptoms range from being irritable and unhappy to experiencing suicidal thoughts or taking suicidal action. Other possible mood disorders include bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), and peripartum depression.
Recognizing Depression in Others
There are a number of symptoms that can suggest, but don’t confirm depression. If your loved one has been showing these symptoms, talk to them. Consider asking them to get help. Talk to them about seeing a professional and figuring out what’s going on. It could be a very scary time for your loved one, or they may simply be reacting to something you haven’t known about yet. The symptoms and signs include:
- Feelings of guilt
- Changing sleeping patterns
- Trouble listening
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden sadness and crying
- An “empty” feeling
- Physical pain (inflammation and joint aches, headaches)
There’s only one way to be sure if someone is struggling with a depression – and that is to get them professional help. While there are a number of warning signs for depression, it’s very important not to misdiagnose someone while they’re going through a very difficult part of their life. Things like irritability, social avoidance, and bad mood might have any number of reasons, ranging from the predictable – like a bad breakup you might not know about – to something more complex and worrying, including another mental condition with moodiness as part of its list of possible symptoms.
Assumptions are dangerous when it comes to mental health, and it will take one or more thorough conversations with a mental health professional to accurately determine what your loved one might really be going through. The best thing you can do for your loved one is convince them to go get help.
That can be tricky, given certain circumstances. If you want to help your loved one, then having a trusting relationship with them is the first and most important step. You can’t really help someone you love if they won’t tell you how they really feel and what they really think. It all starts with being open about your intentions and your worries – it’s through misunderstanding and a lack of clarity that trust is eroded. Tell your loved one that you want what’s best for them, that you want to help them, and that you can tell they’re going through something that they’re struggling with alone, even though they don’t have to be alone.
Helping Your Loved One Cope with Depression
When you get sick, it’s ultimately your own body that fights the sickness. It’s your cells that fend off attackers, isolate them, excite the system, and expel them. But even though it’s your fight, you’re much better off not fighting alone. Taking medicine, getting to take a break from work or school, being tended to by nurses or family – with the help and support of others, it’s much easier to recover, and recovery happens much faster.
It’s the same for depression. Your loved one is struggling with thoughts that feel like their own, but with no basis in reality – negativity that comes out of nowhere and makes them feel terrible for no reason. Alone, these thoughts can be crushing. Even alongside others, they’re overpowering. But by helping your loved one cope with depression – by being there, by helping them commit to their goals and continue going to therapy on their good days, by reminding them that all bad thoughts come to pass, and by preventing them from doing anything they might regret when they hit a low point – you’re helping them fight off a dangerous foe.
Medicine and therapy are crucial, but so is the support of family and friends. While therapists and psychiatrists can offer the professionally-crafted framework to help someone be treated for and manage their depression, it’s the patient themselves and the friends and family they look towards who have to work hard at creating and maintaining that framework on a daily basis.
Some days are harder than others, and it’s best not to be alone in your support for your loved one. If you’re watching over your loved one, who’s watching over you? The answer is that support is best provided in networks rather than individual relationships, and it’s best to organize your loved one’s friends and family to come together in support of them, rather than take it all upon yourself.