It is almost the middle of March, and I am certain most of us have “had enough of winter”. Some folks tend to suffer from the winter “blues” but unfortunately some of you are trying to care for someone who is not just “down”, but is seriously ill and clinically depressed. Because the very nature of depression interferes with a person’s ability to seek help, it is important that a friend, family member, or caregiver be able to recognize the symptoms of the illness and know how to assist their loved one to obtain an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Your support and encouragement can play a major role in a loved one’s progress as they combat their illness. The most productive way to assist a depressed individual is to help him or her get proper treatment and to stick with the treatment plan until the symptoms begin to abate. If there are no changes or improvement after a few weeks, ensure that an alternate treatment plan is sought.
Learn about depression and educate yourself about the symptoms, causes, and various methods of treatment. If necessary, make an appointment with your loved one’s healthcare professional and go prepared with your list of questions and concerns. Be understanding and emotional supportive. Depression drains a person of energy, optimism, motivation, self-esteem, and hope. A depressed person cannot “just snap out of it” by sheer force of will. Use patience, affection, encouragement, and your listening skills to be an effective and supportive caregiver, and reassure the depressed person that with time and help, he or she will feel better.
Irritability and hostility are common symptoms of depression. There will be many occasions when your loved one will say hurtful things and/or lash out in anger. Do not take it personally! This may be the hardest advice to follow, but always keep it foremost in your mind that it is the illness talking and just respond with, “I love you no matter what you say or do.”
Recognize any progress in your loved one’s life and their battle with depression. Even with proper treatment, recovery from depression will not happen overnight and patience is imperative. While it is not necessary to become a personal cheerleader, be sure to quietly comment on any noted improvements. Sometimes just getting out of bed and showering two days in a row is a real achievement. Be realistic and try not to be negative or critical.
Do not be an enabler by making up excuses, lying for your loved one, or covering up the problem. This will not help and often provides a reason for the depressed person to avoid seeking appropriate help. Remember as well that you cannot “rescue” your loved one from depression. It is not up to you to fix the problem and ultimately depression recovery lies in the hands of the depressed person.
Finally, to truly help your loved one, remember the advice of flight attendant’s: put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else. Make sure you look after your personal health and happiness before you try to help someone else beat depression. Living with a depressed person can be a real struggle and while you cannot control their recovery, you can control your ability to be well and therefore able to provide the support, love, and understanding that is necessary for a full recovery.