What To Do When Your Loved One Is Depressed - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 9, 2014

What To Do When Your Loved One Is Depressed

What do the following people have in common?

  • Mark Twain
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Michelangelo
  • Tchaikovsky
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Winston Churchill
  • Isaac Newton

One could say that each person on the list is known for their remarkable achievements and talents.  Each one arguably has left an indelible impact on the world beyond their respective fields.

One would only be partially correct.  This group of notables also shared a common problem called depression.

What about Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Beyonce-Knowles:  What do they have in common?  American—yes; successful entertainers—yes; rich and famous—yes; and all of them at some point in their lives have struggled with depression.

Depression is a form of mental illness that has biological basis.  It may or may not be preceded by a stressful event such as unemployment, divorce, or death of a loved one.  It affects the person’s thoughts, moods, behaviors, and physiological reactions.  A depressed person may experience sadness and question whether life is worth living.  He or she may withdraw from friends and family and find little enjoyment in things that used to interest him/her.  There may be significant weight gain/loss and sleep changes.  He or she may find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions, resulting in problems at work, in school, and/or day-to-day living.

As the examples above illustrated, depression does not discriminate.  It can strike the young and the not-so-young.  It affects the beautiful, the wealthy, the talented, and the intellectually gifted.  It is known to afflict the powerful and the famous throughout history regardless of race, occupation, and religious affiliation.

Just how common is depression?  Statistics show that depression affects between 7-12% of the American adults per year.  One’s risk of having depression at some point in life is about 20%.

Significant gender differences have been noted.  Not only do men and women experience depression at different rate, they also appear to experience depression differently.  Women are twice as likely to be depressed compared to men of the same age.  While depressed women tend to experience feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt, depressed men tend to struggle with fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, and difficulty sleeping.  Men may also be more likely than women to turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed.

Even though depression can affect any age group, including children, it seems to be highest among those between the ages of 45 to 64.  Contrary to popular belief, old age by itself is not a risk factor for depression.  For older adults struggling with depression, their symptoms may be more somatic in nature, consisting of complaints of physical ailments rather than negative moods.

Depression is also found across different racial groups.  It has been hard to accurately estimate the prevalence of depression among ethnic minorities.  Limited access to healthcare seems to be an important contributing factor.

What do you do if you suspect that your loved one might be depressed?

1. DON’T ignore the symptoms.

There are many depression screening forms available online and in print.  A popular one is the Burns Depression Inventory.  It asks the user to rate a total of 15 items ranging from sadness to suicidal impulses in terms of frequency.  The number for each item is then added to yield a total score, which indicates the level of severity for that individual’s depression.

Depression at any level of severity needs to be taken seriously.  This is especially important if it is accompanied by suicidal ideation and/or self-destructive behaviors such as drinking, drug use, sexual addiction, cutting, and binging.

Depression is frequently accompanied by other mental health problems like anxiety (see my article entitled, what to do when your loved one has an anxiety disorder).  Depression can also increase one’s risk for serious physical problems such as obesity, heart disease, and dementia, as well as negatively affect the prognosis.

2. DO educate yourself about depression.

Before you can provide support for your loved one to get help, you need to educate yourself about what depression is and what it is not.  This article hopefully has answered some of your questions about depression.  The National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression) is a great place to find the latest research and updates on depression, including effective treatment options.  Also, books like When someone you love is depressed:  How to help your loved one without losing yourself by Rosen and Amador can offer insightful and practical advice.

3. DON’T blame your loved one.

It is human nature to assign blame to your loved one when he/she would not just “snap out of it”.  Unfortunately, advising the depressed person to think positive and avoid being negative does not help alleviate the depression.  As mentioned earlier, depression is a complex disorder that affects the individual cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, and physiologically.  Your loved one probably is already feeling frustrated or ashamed because of his/her inability to turn off the negative thoughts.  A more helpful approach is to get him/her to open up by listening emphatically without judgment or criticism.

4. DO be supportive without enabling.

Many people are confused about what it means to be supportive vs. enabling.  Enabling, simply defined, is doing something for someone who is perfectly capable of doing it for himself/herself.  Enabling is counterproductive because it creates an atmosphere where the problem (e.g., addiction, depression) perpetuate instead of improve.

It is important to set clear expectation with your loved one that he/she is responsible for getting help for the depression.  You can help facilitate the process by researching suitable doctors and therapists in the area, making appointments, and providing transportation if needed.  Ultimately though, the depressed person has to decide to take advantage of the resources available and move towards healing.

5. DON’T blame yourself.

Sometimes, friends and family of a depressed individual blame themselves for their loved one’s condition.  Such blaming not only is misguided but also unhelpful.  It could lead to enabling, which then perpetuates the problem.  It could also divert the depressed person’s attention from getting well.  The best way for friends and family to counter this tendency is to seek out support for themselves and take the time to care for their own needs.  In doing so, they avoid potential burnout and model healthy behavior for their loved one.

6. DO seek help.

Depression is a highly treatable disorder.  People frequently let years go by before seeking treatment, which is understandable but unnecessary.  The sooner the depressed individual gets the right kind of help, the sooner he/she can recover and end suffering.

Start with a visit to the primary care physician to rule out medical problems such as a thyroid disorder, as well as certain medications, which could cause depressive symptoms.  Then, get a referral or look up a mental health professional like a licensed psychologist to do a psychological evaluation.  The same mental health professional can then provide accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Many people can recover from depression through evidence-based, short-term psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  Sometimes, a combination of psychotherapy and psychotropic medications are needed for best results.  Most insurance plans include significant mental health benefits, making it cost effective for their members.  For people without health insurance or adequate mental health care coverage, community mental health clinics, as well as many therapists in private practice, offer a sliding fee scale.  While recovery time varies from individual to individual, significant progress is often apparent in a few months.

About the author

Evana Henri

Evana Henri, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical/health psychologist specializing in mind-body wellness. She has over 15 years of clinical experience including advance trainings with medical patients, older adults, and caregivers. Evana uses a combination of different therapeutic approaches to help her clients work through trauma and major life transitions such as divorce, death of a loved one, and abuse in order to restore wholeness and balance in their lives.

These research-based treatment approaches include Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Brainspotting, Solution-Focused Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT), and the HeartMath method of stress management. Based on each client’s unique circumstance, strengths, and preferences, Evana helps him/her design a personalized treatment plan; the emphasis is on empowering the client and teaching him/her skills that can be used for life.

Evana periodically conducts a popular grief/loss journaling support group and is available for giving presentations and consultations on mental health and overall wellness issues. For more information, please visit her website at www.accessyoureverest.com or email her at evanahenri [at] accessyoureverest.com (replace [at] with @).

Evana received a B.A. with honors in Psychology from Stanford University and Ph.D. in Clinical/Health Psychology from Ohio State University. She also completed a hospital-based internship and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center and the Neuropsychiatric Institute.