You want to be able to help your loved ones who are dealing with depression, but how? The answer is not one size fits all, but there are ways in which you can support those closest to you and let them know you’re there for them. This blog will help you understand what depression is, the causes, and some helpful ideas for being there when they might need you most.
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What causes depression?
Depression can occur for many reasons. From the outside looking in, it may appear that life changes, stressors, a recent family death, or any other situational reason may be the cause.
For teens, you may think it is the cause of chemical imbalance or hormonal changes. The honest answer is a bit more complicated and can be a combination of multiple factors. Depression is complex and can be caused by situational factors, genetics, biology, and health.
Some studies found links between family members having depression and the likelihood of someone developing a major depressive disorder. It’s estimated that it is not just one gene but rather a combination of genes and how they interact with each other, as well as the environment each individual lives in.
Main types of depression
There are many types of depression, ranging in symptoms, frequency, and intensity. Below is a list of some of the kinds of depression defined by the 5th edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose a loved one. Only a licensed medical professional such as a family doctor, social worker, therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist (among others) can diagnose someone with a mental illness.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
- The presence of two or more symptoms must last for at least two weeks at a time (as per most depression diagnoses).
- Depressed mood most of the time.
- Diminished interest in daily activities that someone once found pleasurable
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Less active, which may produce feelings of restlessness.
- Fatigue or constantly tired
- Feelings of worthlessness and consistent guilt
- Inability to concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide), or making a plan to commit suicide.
Dysthymia – Persistent Depressive Disorder
- This type can be explained as persistent, ongoing depression that rarely goes away for more than two months at a time. Symptoms can come & go and range in intensity.
Bipolar Disorder – Manic Depression
- Bipolar disorder can be broadly characterized by extreme fluctuations in mood and energy, ranging from depressive “lows” to manic “highs.” During lows, someone may experience symptoms of major depressive disorder, while during highs, they may have lots of energy, be impulsive, or experience feelings of euphoria.
Peripartum Depression (formerly known as Postpartum Depression (PPD))
- Occurs after childbirth.
- Commonly known as the “baby blues,” extreme fluctuations in hormone levels following the birth can cause feelings of sadness. If symptoms do not disappear after a few weeks, it may mean
- someone is experiencing PPD.
- Baby blues are not PPD.
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech [these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others]
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Crying for “no reason.”
- Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about/around the baby
- Feelings of being a bad mother
- Fear of harming the baby or oneself
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Depression is related to seasonal changes, most commonly diagnosed in the winter months, especially in areas with drastic weather changes.
- Includes symptoms of psychosis, which may include false beliefs (delusions) or false sights or sounds (hallucinations).
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
- A form of depression characterized by cyclic hormonal changes and intense premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. While most women who experience a menstrual cycle go through PMS, a much smaller percentage have PMDD.
- To receive a diagnosis, PMDD symptoms would have to exist during each menstrual cycle for the past year and have a negative effect on day-to-day activities.
Situational Depression (Reactive Depression/Adjustment Disorder)
- A short-term form of depression in response to an event, series of events, or traumatic event. Events like divorce or retirement can cause this onset.
- A sub-category of depression that causes symptoms of MDD with increased sensitivity. Symptoms may improve or go away following a joyous event.
Note: This list is of the most common forms of depression and is not all-inclusive.
Depression vs. Sadness
Sadness is a human emotion that nearly every person will experience in their lifetime. It is normal to feel sad following events like death, a breakup, or a divorce. It is caused by the reaction to something.
Depression, on the other hand, does not need a negative experience present to yield symptoms. Someone with depression may experience symptoms even if everything is seemingly okay or long after a traumatic or adverse event. Negative thought patterns are consistent with depression, not found when feeling ‘sadness.’
The decision on when normal sadness becomes a depressive disorder is decided by a professional. If you or someone you know is feeling what they believe to be prolonged, intense sadness or symptoms of MDD, seeking professional advice may be the next step.
You can find therapists or mental health professionals near you at psychologytoday.com or reach out to your family doctor.
- It’s estimated that over 7% of adults in the U.S. are affected by major depressive disorder.
- Around 1.9 million children aged 2-17 are diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the U.S.
- 20-30% of those affected by chronic illness (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV, Parkinson’s, PCOS, substance abuse, etc.) experience a depressive episode.
- Women are 2x more likely to experience major depressive disorder than men.
- Depression has a relatively high success rate for treatment, although only 1 in 3 people with a major depressive disorder will seek help.
- Up to 80% of people treated for depression noted improved symptoms in 4-6 weeks.
Things you should know if a loved one has depression
- It isn’t something they can control.
- While specific symptoms can be managed, proper treatment can be required to feel any improvements. This could mean therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, symptom management, or a combination of all.
- Nobody wants to feel depressed; it isn’t a choice.
- It can be exhausting.
- Over time, symptoms can cause severe mental strain and physical symptoms in somebody who has depression. In addition, fatigue associated with this chronic illness can make it extremely hard to carry out daily activities, especially with other symptoms.
- They can’t just ‘snap out of it.’
- They’re not trying to hurt you.
- Someone with depression experiencing feelings of guilt and shame can often push people away to protect themselves. However, they aren’t trying to hurt you, even if they appear irritable or upset.
- They’re trying their best
- Dealing with depression isn’t easy, and it can be challenging to manage.
- It can be hard to be grateful.
- When someone has depression, it can be hard to show gratitude or be grateful for positive moments and those who care for them. Support is appreciated, but it can be hard to express that, especially when the illness feels lonely.
- Depressive disorders can be a chronic illness.
- Although you can’t physically see it, depression is an illness just like any other chronic health problem.
How to support someone with depression
- Talk to them
- If it appears like a loved one is struggling, tell them what you’ve been noticing and ask if they’d be willing to talk about it.
- Suggest they see a professional
- By explaining to your loved ones that depression is an illness that can be treated, you can suggest that they might want to consider getting treatment. However, it’s important not to force your opinion on them, as they ultimately will decide to receive help themselves.
- Support small achievements
- For someone with depression, achieving large tasks may be difficult or impossible. Support the small achievements and let your loved ones know that you’re proud, so they too can be proud of small accomplishments.
- Help create a stress-free environment.
- Sometimes it may be challenging to get out of bed, do personal hygiene, or even cook for themselves. Offer help in the practical ways that you can.
- Remember that they may initially say no. This could be due to guilt or a variety of reasons. It’s okay to continue asking unless they ask you to stop.
- Offer to make plans
- It can be hard for someone with depression to reach out for support. So, take the initiative by offering to make plans: coffee, a movie, whatever it may be. However, do not try and force them into any plans.
- Practice self-care for you
- The age-old expression, you can’t pour from an empty cup, definitely applies here. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself throughout this process so you can be a support to someone else.
- Stay patient
- A person will not heal from depression overnight. Therefore, it’s critical to stay patient even if the healing process takes a while or does not appear to be improving.
In the case of an emergency…
- If they are experiencing suicide ideation or suicidal thoughts, encourage them to seek help at a hospital or reach out to their doctor/therapist as soon as possible. If you’re concerned that they are a risk of harming themselves or others, make sure to ask them how they are feeling and if you can help.
- Assess the danger- do they have access to weapons? …etc
- If you feel the situation is urgent and they are at immediate risk of harm, the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
As a friend or family member, you want to support your loved ones who are struggling with depression. Depressive disorders are not a choice and should be treated like any other illness. By understanding what depression is, what can cause it, and ways to be there for them, you can be educated and show them you care when it matters most. Remember to take care of yourself throughout this healing journey and seek help if you feel it is needed.
Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates are a team of highly trained professionals in treating depression and major depressive disorder. So, if you or a loved one is struggling and looking for counseling in Bethlehem, PA, or at one of our other 14 convenient locations across Eastern PA, schedule an appointment today; we are here to help.