A HELPING HAND: SUPPORTING LOVED ONES THROUGH DEPRESSION
BY DR POI JIA YING AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DATIN DR SHARMILLA KANAGASUNDRAM
As mental health professionals, the most common inquiry posed by friends and family accompanying individuals struggling with depression often revolves around the question, “What actions can I take to be of help?”. In this article we delve into six general ideas in how to help a person with depression.
• Recognising the Early Signs: Depression often paints individuals in an enduring low mood, much like a persistent climate rather than the changing daily weather. It’s an emotional state that’s resistant to brightening and frequently accompanies a sense of inability to experience pleasure and a lack of motivation. Look out for physical symptoms like disrupted sleep, poor appetite, and constant fatigue. Additionally, be attentive to cognitive signs, such as loss of focus, feelings of unwarranted guilt, worthlessness, and more severely thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Early recognition is the first step towards effective support.
• Seek Professional Assessment and Treatment: It is paramount to emphasise the importance of an accurate diagnosis. Depression exists on a spectrum, from mild to severe, and treatment approaches may differ significantly. A comprehensive evaluation not only validates the diagnosis but also guides the selection of appropriate interventions, such as psychotherapy for mild cases or medication for more severe presentations.
• Providing a Supportive Environment: Acknowledge the significance of encouraging a supportive environment. Encourage open conversations and discourage stigmatising remarks, criticism, or hostility. Individuals battling depression often face feelings of guilt or shame, so it’s crucial to create a non-judgmental atmosphere. Recognising red flags, such as thoughts of suicide or self-harm, necessitates immediate professional intervention requiring them to be referred promptly.
• Effective Communication: Active listening and genuine empathy is key. Emphasise your availability to listen, avoid relating their experiences to your own as some may find it to be invalidating. Foster open and non-judgmental dialogue, allow a safe space for them to express their feelings. It is crucial to respect their privacy and maintain confidentiality, as trust is vital to their sharing of struggles. Additionally, understand and respect their boundaries, as they may need alone time or space to cope.
• A Healthy Lifestyle: Encourage practices that contribute to good mental health, such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Understand that energy levels may be low for individuals with severe depression, making strenuous activities challenging. Support any steps they take towards a healthier lifestyle and be their partner in this journey. These self-care practices can positively impact mood and overall well-being.
• Be Patient and Celebrate Progress: Recognise that the path to recovery is often gradual. Managing expectations is vital as recovery is not an immediate process. Celebrate small victories and offer consistent encouragement. Depression can be an enduring challenge, akin to a marathon rather than a sprint. Understand that encountering obstacles and setbacks during the recovery process is a rule rather than the exception. Maintain a consistent approach in offering encouragement, and your consistency will be mirrored by their recovery.
With all these tips in mind, each person’s journey through depression is different and no two are alike. As their support, adapting your support to their individual needs is paramount. The involvement of mental health professionals is always recommended as they offer expertise to complement the warmth of your support. Depression may be complex, but together, we hope to ease the path to healing.