When someone you love is depressed

Ways you can help someone who is dealing with depression.

If someone close to you is suffering from depression, you may feel isolated. In fact, depression is a remarkably prevalent disease. As many Canadians suffer from major depression as from other leading chronic conditions, according to the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). As Statistics Canada’s The Daily reported, “Some 4 per cent of people interviewed in the survey reported having experienced symptoms or feelings associated with major depression, compared with 5 per cent with diabetes, 5 per cent with heart disease and 6 per cent with a thyroid condition.”

Why then is it so difficult to watch a family member suffer from depression? Part of the difficulty comes from the stigma of mental illnesses, particularly an illness that is often related to “the blues.” The cultural assumption is often that if people didn’t want to be depressed – if they would only get out of bed and do something – they would feel better.

But true depression is much more complex than that. The US’s National Institute of Mental Health states on its website: “Depression is a serious medical condition. In contrast to the normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, clinical depression is persistent and can interfere significantly with an individual’s ability to function.” And being the partner of someone who is depressed and potentially starting to experience difficulty functioning through the daily stresses of every day life can be very difficult.

Accepting your feelings
Dealing with someone who is depressed can be frustrating and well, depressing. It’s extremely frustrating to continually reach out to someone who doesn’t seem able to respond, or to respond appropriately or consistently. It’s perfectly normal to feel annoyed and angry, and even despairing.

If you have been feeling this way and it is beginning to impact on your own quality of life, support for yourself should be your first priority. Finding a counsellor or support group can make all the difference as you navigate the waters of supporting a family member as he or she grapples with the disease and its results.

The important thing to keep in mind is that depression truly is a disease. Although it’s difficult to change your thinking, if you can come to understand that your loved one truly has limited control over his or her state of mind, and to treat it as an illness and not a lack of desire or willpower, you will be on your way to finding a clearer understanding of the reality of your situation.

Dos and don’ts
One thing most supporters of those who suffer from depression want to know is: what can I do? What will help? What won’t? Although each situation is different, here are ten dos and don’ts:

• Do encourage the individual to seek professional help, and help to remove roadblocks by tracking appointments and giving rides to medical offices; if an immediate solution isn’t found, keep gently pushing for trying the next professional, medication, or therapy.