Are They Depressed or Just Sad? A Guide to Help a Friend...

No matter how optimistic we may be, many situations in life can bring us down, from the death of a loved one, to a devastating breakup. Nevertheless, sadness is a normal part of the range of emotions we feel. However, should we find it difficult to snap out of our sadness or fail to see a solution to our situation, then what we are feeling is more than simply just the blues. Dealing with depression can be difficult for a person to face. But how can you tell if your loved one or a good friend is going through more than just a rough patch?


Identifying the Symptoms of Depression

Did you know that depression affects 7% (16 million) of American adults? How do you distinguish between sadness and depression?

Depression is a persistent, long-lasting mental health condition that interferes with a sufferer's everyday life. It affects many aspects of a person's well-being and functioning. Unlike sadness, which can be triggered by a painful life event, the extent to which depression takes hold and drags a person down is much greater. So how do you identify the signs and symptoms if you suspect that someone you know is suffering from depression?  

Be concerned if your loved one has any of the following symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Physical fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing, concentrating or remembering
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Decreased libido
  • Feelings of emptiness, sadness, or guilt
  • Interpersonal withdrawal from others
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Persistent feeling of anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Aches and pains, headaches or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease with treatment.

Not everyone experiences every symptom when dealing with depression. Some people experience just a few, while others experience many or all. It is worth noting that several persistent symptoms alongside a low mood may be a sign of major depression, and that symptoms may vary depending on the stage of the illness.

Furthermore, how long the symptoms last, as well as their severity and frequency, will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. In the case of mild depression, individuals may persistently feel negative or blue. If it's moderate, depression will start to interfere with their everyday lives. Be on the lookout for signs such as not getting out of bed, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, filing papers or completing assignments.

To sum up the difference between sadness and depression, while a sad person may not want to get up and go to work, they still do. A depressed person, on the other hand, might fail to get out of bed at all (unless the consequences of doing so are grave, such as getting fired). A sad person will still make an effort to hang out with friends, but someone who is depressed is more inclined to ignore texts or calls completely.


How to Talk to a Loved One About Depression

Once the symptoms have been identified, seeking psychiatric help is not required immediately. The person may feel more comfortable sharing what they are going through with a close friend at first. Naturally, it may be hard to know what to say when speaking to a loved one about depression. You may worry that he or she will get angry, feel insulted or possibly ignore your concerns. You may also be unsure about what questions to ask and how best to be supportive.

However you approach it, bear in mind that it is more important to be a compassionate listener than it is to give advice. It is not your job to 'fix' the person. The simple act of talking to someone face to face may be of enormous help to them. On this note, a single conversation will not be the end of it. You may therefore need to express your concern and willingness to listen over and over again. So aim to be gentle, yet persistent.

Breaking the ice:

If you're unsure about how to start a conversation with your loved one about your concerns, try the following:

  • I have been concerned about you lately.
  • I have noticed differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
  • I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately.


Encouraging your loved one to open up:

Showing interest in how they are feeling may make it easier for your loved one to open up about how they are feeling. Questions you can ask include:

  • When did you begin feeling like this?
  • Did something happen that made you start to feel this way?
  • How can I best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?


What you say helps:

Being supportive with your words may help. Focus on offering words of encouragement and hope. You can say things like:

  • You are not alone in this. I'm here for you.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you're feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour or minute - whatever you can manage.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do to help you.


But be sure to avoid saying:

  • It's all in your head.
  • We all go through times like this.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • I can't do anything about your situation.
  • Just snap out of it.
  • What's wrong with you?
  • Shouldn't you be better by now?



When Your Loved One Should Seek Treatment

If opening up to a loved one is not helpful, then this is a matter for a mental health professional. The point at which seeking professional help is necessary varies from person to person. As a general rule, if they no longer feel capable of handling things on their own, or you notice that their condition is affecting their daily life - their job, relationships or home - then it is worth the effort to encourage a person to seek treatment. After all, the quicker the intervention, the better off they will be.

What to do if your friend or family member resists getting help for depression

Bear in mind that depression saps motivation and energy - even booking an appointment may seem daunting. It predominantly focuses on negative ways of thinking, so they may believe that their situation is hopeless and that treatment is pointless. Here are a couple of things you can do:

Suggest a general check-up with a physician: Your loved one may be anxious to seek help, so a good first step might be to see a family doctor. Your doctor can then refer your loved one to a psychiatrist or psychologist. After all, the 'professional' opinion can make all the difference.

Offer to help them find a doctor or therapist, and if they need it, go with them on their first visit: Anyone suffering from depression and low energy may find huge relief in not having to seek the right treatment or make the call themselves.   

Where should they start? Minor lifestyle adjustments to help them beat the blues may help. However, when dealing with depression, talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is a fantastic place to begin. On the other hand, psychiatry is more oriented toward medication. In fact, research has shown that it is an effective first course of treatment, with the most common approach being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  - a highly-effective means for helping people manage their depression. CBT involves helping patients use their own brains to change their behavior, enabling them to view their environment in a more positive and realistic way. With the right tools, a depressed person may begin to understand how to control or eliminate their symptoms without medication. A skilled psychotherapist may then advise whether meds are necessary. Also bear in mind that regardless of how complex and variable depression can be, there are also a multitude of treatments available.


Taking care of yourself while helping a depressed person

Inevitably this is going to be a challenging time for you. These tips will help you keep your strength as you support your loved one through depression treatment and recovery:

Speak up: If your loved one has upset you or let you down, be honest with them and express how you feel. Suffering in silence will only build resentment to how you feel about them. Consequently, your loved one may pick up on these negative emotions, causing them to feel worse. Talk about how you're feeling, communicating with sensitivity.

Set boundaries: Naturally, there is only so much that you can do, and therefore it is important that you do not let your life be controlled by your loved one's depression. Avoid burnout and resentment by setting clear limits on what you are willing and able to do.

Stay on track: Stick to your appointments and plans with your friends. If your loved one is unable to go on an outing or trip you've planned, ask a friend to join you instead.

Seek support: Join a support group or talk to a counselor or clergyman, or confide in a trusted friend to help get you through this tough time. Do not judge your emotions and how you are feeling during this tough time.

Source 1; Source 2
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