Aid for depression starts with lending an ear

Depression is common and does not discriminate.

It affects people of all ages, genders and socioeconomics. It is estimated that roughly 4.5 percent of the world’s population deals with the disorder. In addition, it appears to be increasing, especially in lower-income areas. The effects are felt not only by individuals but also their families, friends and employers.

Depression can make even simple daily tasks feel impossible. Suicide can be a devastating consequence. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released earlier this month, suicide has increased 33 percent since 1999. Fortunately, prevention and treatment options are out there and the more we talk about depression, the more we can learn to recognize it and respond.

The message seems to be resonating. Following Mental Health Awareness Month and reports of celebrity deaths and struggles with depression, our society seems to be recognizing that depression is both common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Depression is more than just the blues or being sad. Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period.

Though it is healthy for people to feel and express a range of emotions, including sadness, depression is a common mental illness that differs from being sad.

Symptoms include:

• Low or irritable mood most of the time

• A loss of pleasure in usual activities

• Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

• A big change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss

• Tiredness and lack of energy

• Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate and guilt

• Difficulty concentrating

• Unusually slow or fast movements

• Lack of activity and avoiding usual activities

• Feeling hopeless or helpless

• Repeated thoughts of death or suicide

Deep in the symptoms of depression for those that struggle with it may be a lack of motivation, energy or insight to reach out for help.

Listen and let them know you care. At times you may not feel your presence is wanted, but just being present for someone and listening with empathy can show a person that he is not alone, that he is loved. There can be a great deal of guilt and shame involved in deep depression. Allowing someone to talk about the experience can be more helpful than the person listening may realize.

Though many are under the assumption that sadness is unnatural and must be avoided, it is OK for someone to feel sad. All emotions are part of life and even a healthy response to life stressors. When friends and loved ones are sad, don’t feel pressure to “cheer ’em up.”

It’s important to be genuine. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, especially because you might inadvertently make the person feel like a burden or a problem. Voice your concerns about the person. Try not to get into “fix it” mode. The most important thing is your presence and understanding, showing empathy and making a connection.

Remember, depression is an illness. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is no different than telling someone with a physical ailment to “buck up.” Most who are suffering from severe depression have already tried that approach and may feel like a failure for not being able to.

Reach out and provide social opportunities. Ask the person to help you with a project or something that will include her but not call attention to her depression. Invite her to contribute to your life in some way, even if it’s just asking her to go see a movie.

Be patient with your loved one and yourself, educate yourself and others on depression and resources in our community. Helping someone get the treatment they need may take time and many approaches but can make a difference.

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