Every year, nearly 7 percent of adults in the United States experience a major depressive episode. This means that in a room of 30 students, the average class size at a community college, two people are suffering from some form of depression. In a large lecture hall of 200 students, approximately 14 people have depression. If a you spend a single hour wandering around Times Square in New York City, you would see 875 people with depression. This is why depression is often known as the “common cold of mental illnesses,” although its effects are anything but harmless.
Symptoms of depression often include feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and a general feeling of “emptiness.” People with depression typically lose interest in activities or hobbies that they once found pleasant, a condition known as anhedonia. They also suffer from decreased energy, difficulty concentrating and muscle aches. Fifteen percent of people with depression ultimately commit suicide, making the death rate for depression higher than for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or malaria.
Because depression is so common, most people will eventually meet someone with the disorder or experience it themselves. When facing a friend with depression, it can be tempting to back away, ignore it, or make light of the condition. Depression can be difficult to understand, especially for someone who has never experienced it before. Here are ways in which you can be a supportive friend to someone who has depression.
Nobody chooses to be depressed. People aren’t depressed because they love complaining or want a good excuse to stay inside all day. Depression is a serious illness that can be bring even the most strong-willed, happy-go-lucky person to their knees. Depression can be tricky because unlike most diseases, the physical signs of the illness are not easy to see. An absence of visible symptoms makes depression look like a willful decision on the part of the sick person, but that is not the case; people with depression experience literal, actual changes in their neural circuitry that can only be viewed during brain imaging.
For someone who has never suffered from depression, the way out of the darkness looks laughably easy. “Why don’t you just force yourself to leave the house?” “Maybe you should get some of your housework done this weekend instead of sleeping all day.” Being unable to just “walk it off” and ignore symptoms is what makes depression a mental health issue and not a laziness issue. People with depression might know that they would feel better if they did their homework instead of watch television for five hours, yet their brain chemicals are physically unable to muster the motivation to get up from the couch. Daily tasks that are simple for someone without depression can be nearly impossible for someone with the illness.
Everyone has felt sad before, but not all people have been depressed. Comparing your friend’s depression to a recent breakup will only make him or her feel belittled and misunderstood. In a similar vein, reminding someone with depression that he or she shouldn’t be sad because other people have it worse is like telling a person with the stomach flu to stop throwing up because people are starving in other countries. Not only is it absurd – and impossible – but it will make the person with depression feel guilty for being unable to make himself or herself feel better.
People who are depressed often withdraw into their homes and ignore the outside world as much as possible. People with depression might stop answering calls or “flake out” on important social events. They might always say “no” when they’re asked to see a movie, have dinner, or go out and do something they love. Don’t force them to hang out, but keep inviting them to activities and let them know they’re not forgotten. People with depression often lose their jobs and their hobbies: it’s important for them to know that they won’t lose their friends, too. When they are ready to go out, they will say yes.
People with depression are just that – people with depression. Everyone copes with depression in different ways. If they are comfortable talking about it, have a conversation with them about how to best behave around them during a depressive episode. If you suspect that a friend with depression might hurt himself or herself based on what he or she says, do not hesitate to get help.
Sovereign Health Group provides individualized therapy for each patient based on his or her needs and treatment goals. This is why Sovereign is one of the leading dual-diagnosis treatment centers in the country. For further questions, please contact 866-554-5504.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer