When you care about someone who is depressed
By Laurie Hollis"Walker
Almost everyone feels 'depressed' sometimes. Between 1"10% of Canadian men and women may be clinically depressed at any given time. Clinical depression is a physical, psychological, and potentially life threatening illness that can only be diagnosed by a psychologist, medical doctor, or nurse practitioner after expert assessment of five symptoms over a two"week period. Symptoms vary in severity, which explains depression's confusion with 'sadness' or 'having the blues.'
If you care about someone with depression, you know the challenge of offering support and compassion when they can be connected and functioning at times and distant and self"critical at others. Despite the challenges, there are ways you can help.
Take care of your loved one
What you do matters. Show them you are on their side. Tell them they are suffering from a real illness and you are going to be there. Provide real support in the form of helping with chores, remembering details, and getting to appointments. Take them to a walk"in talk"therapy clinic such as the one offered by the Thunder Bay Counseling Centre and the Children's Centre Thunder Bay or to their primary care provider. Express your hope for the future and remind them you are connected: a sincere hug of 20 seconds can stimulate the brain response linked to pleasure. Watching a comedy show or sharing a joke accomplishes the same result. These may be the only messages your loved one can hear through their depressive fog.
Take care of yourself
Inform yourself about depression. Enlist the help of close others. Take positive steps to avoid frustration and burnout. Keep to your routines and attend to self"care. Be patient and understand that this is temporary. Understand your limits and get professional help when you need it. The most important thing your loved one needs to know is that you care, you believe and support them, and that the symptoms and illness will pass.
Suicide is a real threat
Ask your loved one directly if they are thinking about death and/or suicide and take their answer seriously. Depressed people most often do not really want to die. If they admit to thoughts of death, ask if they have a plan. If they don't have a plan, ask them what keeps them here, remind them why they matter, tell them you are there for them and care that they live. If your loved one tells you they have a plan, listen to that plan. If the plan is concrete and the person has intention and the means to carry it out, take them to an emergency room immediately. When having this conversation, you must control your own panic and ask questions with real curiosity. Even if it means hearing the worst possible news, you may save your loved one's life. For information about suicide and suicide prevention, Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention (www.ospn.ca)
If you take some of these steps you can be a great help to your loved one in their time of need. They will benefit from better mental health and you will both gain a more connected relationship.
Laurie Hollis"Walker, MA is a therapist at NorWest Community Health Centres, where she provides psychotherapy and facilitates mental health programs for individuals, couples, and groups.
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