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What is depression?

Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life, but when emotions such as hopelessness and despair take hold and just won’t go away, you may have depression. More than just sadness in response to life’s struggles and setbacks, depression changes how you think, feel, and function in daily activities. It can interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life. In addition, just trying to get through the day can be overwhelming.

While some people describe depression as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom, others feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic. Men in particular, can feel angry and restless. However you experience the problem, left untreated it can become a serious health condition. But it’s important to remember that feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are symptoms of depression—not the reality of your situation.

No matter how hopeless you feel, you can get better. By understanding the causes and recognizing the different symptoms and types of depression, you can take the first steps to feel better and overcome the problem.

How to help a friend with depression
How to help a friend with depression? Start a conversation. Let your friend know you’re there for them.

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Recognizing depression symptoms in a loved one

One in five Americans is affected by mental illness. You probably know at least one person who has experienced anxiety, depression or something of the like in their life. While common, it can sometimes be challenging to spot in loved ones.

Many of the 16 million Americans who deal with depression are left untreated or undiagnosed. Deciphering between temporary sad moods or prolonged depressive episodes is an unenviable task for a family member or friend. To mark Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight the signs and symptoms of depression, what to look for in your loved ones, and the steps you can take to help if a loved one is depressed.

Signs and symptoms of depression

Recognizing and diagnosing depression can be difficult, as it affects people differently. Depression can look different depending on your age or gender.

Signs of depression in women

As children grow older into their teenage and adult years, females are more likely to become depressed due to biological and hormonal changes.

There are specific types of depression that only affect women, mainly due to hormonal changes that occur at various times of their lives. For instance, women can become depressed when pregnant, called perinatal depression, or after the birth of their child, called postpartum depression. Women may also experience depression during their menstrual cycle or menopause.

Common signs of depression in women include sadness, helplessness, decreased libido, and digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation. They may also experience weight gain, increased appetite, and trouble sleeping.

Signs of depression in men

Men tend to be less emotional and less outward with their feelings, so it can be challenging to spot depression. Often, depression in men can be confused with aggression or anger. 

There are still several ways to tell if a loved one is depressed. A change in sleeping patterns or a disinterest in work or other hobbies can be tell-tale signs since depression often causes fatigue. They may also present physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, chest pain, headaches, or digestive issues.

Signs of depression in elderly people

Don’t confuse depression with old age. Yes, older adults may seem more tired than usual or lack the drive they once had. But, there is a difference between slowing down as you age and depression.

Diagnosing depression in older adults can be tricky since they may not show typical signs of depression. Instead, they may display a lack of emotions rather than a depressed mood. They can also become increasingly grump or irritable. Physically, trouble sleeping and constant fatigue are often signs of depression.

How to help a friend with depression?

Depression is a serious but treatable disorder that affects millions of people, from young to old and from all walks of life. It gets in the way of everyday life, causing tremendous pain, hurting not just those suffering from it but also impacting everyone around them.

If someone you love is depressed, you may be experiencing any number of difficult emotions, including helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, and sadness. These feelings are all normal. It’s not easy dealing with a friend or family member’s depression. And if you neglect your own health, it can become overwhelming.

That said, your companionship and support can be crucial to your loved one’s recovery. You can help them to cope with depression symptoms, overcome negative thoughts, and regain their energy, optimism, and enjoyment of life. Start by learning all you can about depression and how to best talk about it with your friend or family member. But as you reach out, don’t forget to look after your own emotional health—you’ll need it to provide the full support your loved one needs.

How to help a friend with depression
How to help a friend with depression? Learn about depression on your own. While people experience depression differently, being familiar with the general symptoms and terminology can help you have more in-depth conversations with your friend.

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What to avoid if you’re suffering from depression

Although depression is a common problem, each person’s case is different and needs dealing with differently. However, there are several typical lifestyle issues which can get in the way of recovery. Here are 12 things it’s best to avoid if you’re suffering from depression or anxiety.

1) Don’t ignore your issues. They won’t solve themselves. Seeking help and addressing your problems is the only way forward, even though it can be painful to begin the journey.

2) Don’t drink alcohol, especially not to excess. Although it can make you feel better in the short term, it doesn’t solve anything, and can quickly introduce new issues. Also, it acts as a depressant, hindering other recovery efforts.

3) Try not to stay in bed or to let your sleep patterns become chaotic. Insomnia can make depression much worse, and sticking to a regular sleep routine is the best way to avoid this.

4) Don’t lock yourself away indoors. Ideally, you should try to maintain social contact, but if you really can’t face this, at least get some fresh air and sunshine. Studies repeatedly show that spending time outdoors is a powerful way of reducing depression and anxiety.

5) It might be tempting to escape into video games or other virtual distractions, but don’t overdo this. At best it’s avoidance, but at worst it further isolates you from the outside world, giving your problems a space in which to grow out of proportion.

6) Resist the urge to wallow in sad music. It might speak to your current mood, but it’s unlikely to do much to lift it.

7) In the same way, don’t fixate on depressing news and media. Bad news sells but gives an unrealistically pessimistic view of the world.

8) Avoid comparing yourself, and your life, with other people. You’re almost certainly not seeing the reality, and it will only make you feel worse if you come up short. That is particularly true on social media, where most people just share the best parts of their lives.

9) Never feel guilty about your depression. It’s an illness with both genetic and environmental roots. It’s not your fault, you’re not weak, and you can’t just snap out of it.

10) Try not to think too hard about the future, especially if this always leads to catastrophization, where you can only imagine the worst. Try and live in the moment whenever something positive is happening.

How to help a friend with depression
How to help a friend with depression? Help them find support. Even if they know therapy could help, it can be daunting to search for a therapist and make an appointment.

11) Think carefully before embarking on a new relationship unless you’ve got a handle on your problems. It’s not fair to the other person unless they’re entirely in the picture, and any relationship failure linked to your depression will hurt you both badly.

12) However, don’t think you can deal with depression on your own. Would you avoid medical help for a chronic physical disease? Talk to trusted friends and family, as well as seeking professional support.

Lastly and most importantly, don’t lose hope. There’ll be a time when life feels immeasurably better, and no matter how you’re feeling now, that day will come sooner than you think.

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When it’s time to intervene

If your initial encouragement doesn’t spur your loved one into action, a direct intervention-style approach may be an option. During this type of intervention, a larger group of friends and family members confronts the depressed individual to convince him that professional psychiatric assistance is needed.

Generally, these types of interventions are performed when a person has a problem with drugs or alcohol, but in certain situations, one may be appropriate for someone suffering from depression, Depression interventions have pros and cons. The advantage is an intervention brings the depression out into the open and forces the patient to actively confront her illness in a manner that demonstrates the concern of loved ones, The disadvantage, and risk of performing a depression intervention is that if it is not done correctly, the person with depression can feel like she is being attacked and quickly become defensive.

In response to a larger, more confrontational group, a depressed person may not have the same eye-opening reaction that an alcoholic or drug addict may have.

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How to talk to someone about depression

Depression can be hard to talk about. But if a friend or loved one is depressed, having a conversation about getting help can make a big difference. Use these tips to start talking.

Show you care

You can say:

  • “How are you feeling? I’m here to listen to you and support you.”
  • “I’m concerned about you. I think you may need to talk to someone about depression. I want you to get the help you need to feel better.”
  • “I’d really like to spend more time with you. Let’s take a walk, grab something to eat, or go to a movie.”

Offer hope

You can say:

  • “You’re not alone. Many people suffer from depression
    — it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
  • “Depression is treatable. Getting help is the best thing you can do.”
  • “Many people get better with treatment — even people who have severe depression.”
  • “There are different ways to treat depression, including therapy and medicine.”
  • “Getting more physical activity can lower your stress level and help you feel better.”

Offer to help

You can say:

  • “Let me help you figure out what’s going on. You can start by making an appointment with your doctor — or I can help you find someone else to talk to, like a counselor, therapist, or social worker.”
  • “I can give you a ride to your therapy appointment or remind you to take your medicine.”
  • “You can call or text me at any time if you need support — or if you just want to talk.”

how how to help a friend with depression
How to help a friend with depression? Be patient

Learn how to help a friend with depression. If you think someone you know may be suffering from depression, it’s important to approach the subject compassionately and with empathy. Many people may feel ashamed about not being able to just deal with life, but having a loved one reach out can be a first step toward seeking professional help and getting back on the road to a more fulfilling life.

We Level Up NJ has mental health professionals on staff who can help those suffering from depression start getting back to their lives and assist those around them in understanding how to be as supportive as possible. If you or a family member is seeking treatment, contact us, and we would be happy to help.

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[1] US Department of Health and Human Services –