There’s more to living with depression than having an off day or feeling blue. Depression is a mental illness that can slowly take over a person’s life. And as people live increasingly isolated lives due to the pandemic, the condition is becoming more prevalent. One in six South Africans may be struggling with depression, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). It’s therefore certainly possible that you may be depressed, or know someone struggling with depression. It is thus so important to know how to support someone who is battling.
“Sadly, there is so much stigma surrounding depression that many people suffer in silence, unable to talk to their loved ones, let alone their doctors,” said Dr Eugene Allers, a prominent psychiatrist. “Additionally, many people with depression think their feelings are normal and can go years without seeking the help they need.”
It’s important to know that depression won’t go away on its own, but it can be treated, and you can emerge from the darkness and live a fulfilled life. This is why it’s important to recognise the symptoms in yourself or others and seek professional help.
Symptoms may be subtle
Depression is not the same for everyone and symptoms can vary. If you or someone you know has had all or some of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks, then it’s time to talk to your doctor.
- Being sad or tearful. More than usual
- Feeling hopeless, especially about the future
- Lack of interest in regular activities
- Irritable and easily upset
- Low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thinking about death or suicide
How you can help
The first and most important step is to reassure them that they’re not alone, and to assist them in seeking medical help.
1. Educate yourself
There are credible resources that will help you understand the symptoms, causes and treatment options. The more you know, the easier it will be to overcome the misconceptions and seek out treatment. The Our Mental Health website offers a wealth of reliable information and practical lifestyle tools to help the recovery journey.
2. Reach out
Ask non-judgemental questions that make your loved one feel safe and accepted. This will help them to open up. “Is there anything going on you’d like to talk about?” is a good place to start. If they’re not open to talking, don’t become impatient. Always let them know you’re there for them. If you can’t talk in person, use video or text messages, or whatever works for both of you. Be supportive, and listen without judgement.
3. Encourage treatment
Some people may be ashamed and wary about seeking medical help. Remind them that asking for help doesn’t mean they’re weak; it means they are strong and ready to take the next crucial step in their recovery. Assist them in finding a doctor even if you have to make the appointment and accompany them.
4. Help with errands
Simple tasks like doing the laundry or shopping for groceries can be overwhelming. Offer to help take the load off, or better yet, do things together. The company will be good for both of you and give you a chance to talk and understand what they’re going through.
5. Be patient
Recovery from depression may take time. Even after being on treatment, they’ll no doubt still have bad days. Encourage them not to give up. Recovery will get better. Be there for them, offering hope and support, and don’t get frustrated if you think recovery is taking too long.
There is effective treatment to relieve symptoms of depression, and sometimes a combination of different treatments will be recommended, and can include,
- Medication, such as older or newer antidepressants, mood stabilisers or anti-anxiety medication.
- Talk therapy, where a psychotherapist can help find better ways to cope with problems.
- Day patient programmes that offer support and counselling to manage symptoms
#BreakingDepression is possible
In addition to the right treatment, people with depression need reliable and consistent support from their loved ones. They’ll face challenges during recovery, but they can overcome them, heal, and become stronger, happier versions of themselves. Remember, depression is just like Kintsugi, the Japanese art-form that involves repairing broken objects and highlighting the mended areas with gold––a powerful reminder that we can all become whole and that there is beauty in our past struggles.