Advice for College Grads!
One major difference between depression and any other mental disorder (such as PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder) is the stigma attached: a stigma that says that you can fix the disorder if you can just have the gumption to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. This can make us callous and completely break our ability to help loved ones cope with depression. If you don’t have someone you love who suffers from depression, you probably will at some point. Depression affects about 10% of the American population during any given year. That’s one in ten people!
See Depression as a Real Mental Health Issue
The most important thing to realize first off about depression is that it’s not a mood; it’s a mental disorder. One or two blue days aren’t the same thing as depression. Neither is grief or laziness. Rather, depression is tied to an imbalance in our hormonal systems in the brain.
Depression can be triggered by a myriad of things; from the death of a loved one, to bad weather, to social media. Sometimes depression seems to be caused by nothing at all. It comes and goes mysteriously.
Just as depression can be triggered by diverse things, it can be alleviated or cured by numerous means. Each patient may find their own solution, or way out. For example, for one person that might mean making a major change in the amount of daily stress they have. For another, it might mean starting a new adventure or undertaking. For one person, it might mean finding new ways to view themselves and their problems. Another person might find that the only cure is medication. For another, it’s thoughtful counseling with a professional to run through a check on personal and mental habits and change to more productive habits. Another person might simply need time.
Understand the Difference Between Mild and Clinical Depression
One of the biggest things that we can do to help our loved ones struggling with depression is to encourage them to find solutions. Many times, the solution is in professional counseling. The trouble with depression is that because of the very nature of the disease, patients usually can’t see or hope for a time when it gets better. Because they’re having a hard time making plans and being motivated, they often need an extra push of encouragement to try things that will make it better.
Here’s how you can know when it’s time to encourage your friend to seek out professional help for their depression:
- If the depression occurs nearly every day, for longer than a two-week period.
- If your friend seems to no longer feels or acts like themselves.
- They’re finding it hard to function the way they used to, including job performance, relationships, and personal goals and habits.
- They’re perpetually having a hard time sleeping.
- Their health is flagging, whether that’s in weight gain or loss, increased pain and headaches, or other symptoms.
- They’re using a substance to treat symptoms of depression, whether this is sleeping pills, alcohol, or an illegal drug.
Weakness Can Also Be A Strength
I find that it’s important to remember when it comes to loved ones who suffer from depression, that often, the personality traits that make one susceptible to depression can also be the strengths that we love about them so much. For example, sensitivity, nurturing, creativity, and high-achievement expectations can all make someone more susceptible to depression. That doesn’t mean that those attributes are problematic. Rather, the depression needs to be moderated and mitigated in order for them to reach their true strength and potential.
How Can You Help a Friend or Loved One with Depression?
It’s hard to know what we can do to help our loved one when they don’t have goals or a plan of their own while they’re stuck in the mire of depression. However, it’s important to stay connected and encouraging, whether or not the individual is welcoming to your overtures. Suicide, addiction, and other harmful behavior is a very real possibility in patients with severe depression, especially if they haven’t yet connected with a professional who can help.
- Talk to them. Let them know that they’re connected and give them a safe place and judgment-free zone to express what’s going on. Building a good support network makes a big difference in one’s ability to cope with depression. Sometimes, it’s important for someone simply to realize that someone else noticed them and noticed that they’re suffering. Although it can be hard to know what to say and how to help, remember that often, being a compassionate listener is more powerful than any advice you could give. Start the conversation with “I’m concerned about you…” and enumerate the changes that you’ve seen in them.
- Encourage them to stay active. Often, depression is exacerbated by isolation and lack of stimulation. You can help by encouraging your loved one to take part in outside activities. Activities that leave you with a sense of accomplishment can be especially powerful in getting patients of depression out of the harmful cycles of self-talk that perpetuate depression. Invite your friend out to exercise, volunteer, work with children and animals, and reconnect with activities and people that they love.
- Help them break bad habits. When depression sets in, it’s all too common for a person to start embracing habits that only make the problem cyclically worse, usually due to diminishing health, hygiene, nutrition, and overall behavior. As a friend or loved one, though, you can do your part to help them recognize that a behavior or habit is truly harming them.
- Set a positive but understanding example. It’s important, while you’re trying to help someone struggling with depression, to continue to take care of yourself. Otherwise, the situation can be frustrating and can lead to feelings of grief, pain, guilt, and irritation. You need to set your own boundaries and take care of your own mental health. Don’t overextend yourself, and set an example of positive behavior and habits. Remind your friend that it’s possible to feel better and that they’ll get there soon.
- Push them to seek professional help. As we mentioned before, severe depression is a medical disorder. Often, the best way to find a solution is through professional counseling. A therapist can help determine which form of treatment will be the most beneficial, monitor risks, and help find creative solutions for daily challenges.