‘My bank balance is depressing,’ is what a friend recently told me. Another random twitterer (if that is a word) tweeted that their ‘rail replacement bus driver was very depressing.’
Depression is a word that many people throw about willy-nilly these days. In fact, many times many people confuse low mood with depression, and they often use one to mean the other. Although there might be an overlap in the symptoms, the two conditions are different. The problem with this is we may start not taking depression seriously if we can’t tell the difference.
Difference between depression and low mood then?
The difference between low mood and depression basically is one of intensity and duration. In other words, low mood that is persistent often may turn into depression.
You see, as human beings at some point we all feel down, sad, and fed up sometimes, this is life, and it helps to acknowledge this. When a setback or major loss happens in life, for example, the ending of a relationship, job, or loss of a loved one, it is so natural for us to grieve. During this period, grief may manifest itself in symptoms that are like those of depression, for example; loss of interest in things, hopelessness, worthlessness, low self-esteem, overeating or not eating, oversleeping or poor sleep etc.
This period of grieving is usually normal and a very important stage of the healing process. So, these symptoms usually are brief and may last for a few days or weeks. But in depression, these symptoms and others may last for a substantial period and as a result, the ability to function may significantly be affected. Depression is itself common and some researchers predict that it will become even more common in the next 10 years.
How does it feel to be depressed?
From talking to several people who have experienced depression this is how they succinctly described it. One said: ‘It is like getting stuck in a black hole with no way out.’ It feels like this dark cloud is hovering over you wherever you go, and can’t get rid of it. It feels like being locked in a very dark room and you find the door to get out of it. It feels like no one understands or is prepared to listen to you. You feel like you want to disappear for some time and return when this horrible feeling is gone. You feel like you want to die but do not want to. You feel unwanted as though tucked in a corner disconnected and no one is interested. Another one said you feel empty and alone, you cannot see any way out.
Another said: ‘It’s like being terribly homesick but already being at home, so you know there is no possible way to satiate the feeling.’ What is unfortunate is that the feelings and thoughts when feeling depressed may change our behaviours in ways that may make the depression worse.
How do you help a friend who is depressed?
Although there are no simple answers to this, it is important to know that the vast majority of people who experience depression do recover. Yes, that’s right even though the feelings described above seem absolutely unbearable. These are my tips to you:
- If you can, spend time with them and try to show them that you are available for them.
- Listen to them in a non-judgmental way and let them express their negative emotions and feelings. Feeling heard may help them feel understood, which is very comforting. Although you might feel like doing something practical to help, just listen to them.
- Do not say words like ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out of it’ they may be feeling a lot of guilt and self-blame already. Avoid saying ‘I know how you feel I have felt down too’ or words to that effect. This tells them you are not bothered about how they are feeling. They want you to see things from their perspective, not yours or your experiences.
- Be patient with them and supportive. They may already have a lot of self-directed anger and may be irritable towards you to reduce this pressure. It is very common to feel that they don’t deserve your love and friendship and as a result, may push you away, you may find their behavior towards you distressing – continue to be supportive, don’t be put off by it.
- Try encouraging them to continue doing the things they used to enjoy and offer to join them.
While looking after your friend do not forget to look after your mental well-being too. Try not to let your life become overtaken by your need to support theirs. Where possible let others play a part too and have some respite away from it. If you don’t, you may end up resenting your friend. Encourage and support them to seek support and offer to attend a GP appointment with them.
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