Has someone ever confided in you feelings of depression? This is not
uncommon. But when those feelings persist and impact a person’s health and well-being, it may be necessary to seek help. As a concerned friend or family member, you may wonder how serious the depression is, and you may feel the need to encourage the person to seek treatment. But often that is not easy to do.
The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that depression affects more than 6.5 million adults. This illness can impact a person’s physical and emotional health, employment, family and friendships. Depression can be tricky. Many of the symptoms can be misinterpreted or mistaken for other things. For example, have you had a friend who began to cancel on you repeatedly at the last minute? Have you worked with someone who started calling in sick frequently and was doing less and less when in the office? Perhaps you have a friend who has become a kvetch, always complaining about an ache or a pain. All of these behaviors may be attributed to depression.
It can take some time before friends and family recognize that someone they care about is depressed. It can take even longer for the depressed person to find the strength and courage to seek help.
According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, depression can be identified when the symptoms persist for more than two weeks and include feelings of sadness, irritability, a loss of interest in activities, insomnia or excessive sleeping. A person may think more slowly, move more slowly, be indecisive and experience decreased concentration. In severe cases there may be thoughts of suicide or self harm.
What can you do as a friend or loved one to encourage the person affected by depression to get help? Xaviar Amador, a clinical psychologist and the author of “I Am Not Sick. I Don’t Need Help” (Vida Press, New York, 2000), offers these suggestions:
- Be gentle and remember a depressed person feels vulnerable.
- Do not try to reason with the person. Focus on a part of the problem that he can see and ask him to get help for that.
- Ask the person to get help for your sake, because you are concerned and you want her to feel better. Amador suggests that if the person will not seek help despite your concern, maybe you can convince her to do so based on the strength of your relationship.
Depression is a serious illness. Recognizing that someone you care about needs help, and having the courage to discuss your concerns, may just be the push needed for a person to acknowledge the depression and seek help. The good news is that depression can be treated, often through a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the sooner the person can begin to recover.
See related story, “From Darkness To Light.” To contact Jewish Community Services, call 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbaltimore.org.
Donna Kane is the community liaison, Access Services, for Jewish Community Services.