Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world; in the United States, close to ten percent of adults struggle with depression. But because it’s a mental illness, it can be a lot harder to understand than, say, high cholesterol.
One major source of confusion is the difference between having depression and just feeling depressed. Almost everyone feels down from time-to-time, but Clinical Depression is different. It’s a medical disorder, and it won’t go away just because you want it to. It lingers for at least two consecutive weeks and significantly interferes with one’s ability to work, play, or love. Chances are you know someone who suffers from depression. Here are some ways you can help.
1- Help find help: If you know someone struggling with depression, encourage them – gently – to seek out help. You might even offer to help with specific tasks, like looking up therapists in the area or making a list of questions to ask a doctor. To someone with depression, these first steps can seem insurmountable.
2- Be informed: If they feel guilty or ashamed, point out that depression is a medical condition just like asthma or diabetes. It’s not a weakness or a personality trait, and they shouldn’t expect themselves to “just get over it” any more than they could will themselves to get over a broken arm. The more you know about mental illness, the better able you are to understand what they are going through, and to support them.
3- Don’t downplay it: If you haven’t experienced depression yourself, avoid comparing it to times you’ve felt down – comparing what they’re experiencing to normal, temporary feelings of sadness can make them feel guilty for struggling.
4- Stamp out stigma: Even just talking about depression openly can help. For example, research shows that asking someone about suicidal thoughts actually reduces their suicide risk. Open conversations about mental illness help erode stigma, and make it easier for people to ask for help. And, the more patients seek treatment, the more scientists will learn about depression, and the better the treatments will get.
5- Continue the conversation: Because depression’s symptoms are intangible, it’s hard to know who might look fine, but is actually struggling. Just because your friend may seem fine one day, don’t assume that they’ve ‘gotten better’. Remain supportive.