Clinical depression is a mental health condition that can severely impact an individual’s ability to function in their everyday life and their quality of life. It is important to note that clinical depression is not to be confused with sadness, grief or considered a weakness of character. Depression often has a long course that goes beyond normal aspects of the human experience. Whilst depression may not be a normal part of the human experience, the World Health Organisation estimates that over 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. You are not alone.
Depression can present in various ways and can range in severity for different people. For most of those that experience it, it involves:
Some may also experience a decreased ability to concentrate or focus, chronic pain, restlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide.
It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling— that really hollowed-out feeling. – JK Rowling
Many factors can contribute to the emergence of clinical depression. It can be different for every person. A genetic predisposition or family history, drug and alcohol use, environmental factors such as traumatic childhood experiences, and psychological factors such as a worrisome personality may contribute. Stressful life events and long-term challenges (e.g., long-term unemployment, chronic medical illness, isolation, a relationship break-up) may also act to ‘trigger’ depression if you’re already at risk by affecting the way your brain regulates moods and copes with stress. Oftentimes it may result from various interacting factors.
The good thing is that depression is treatable. If you feel like you may be experiencing depression, you should know that it is not all in your head. It is a serious illness, and there are many things you can do to get better and improve your mental health.
There are many alternative ways to improve your mental health, and support your mind and body through its recovery. Your psychologist will help you identify the best solutions for you.
The best thing you can do for a loved one suffering from depression is to listen and try to understand. You may feel confused, helpless, frustrated or distressed, maybe even worried that small actions will upset them more. Remember that this person is not themselves, and depression is an insidious, isolating disorder. You may notice this person withdrawing or avoiding social contact, and this may be confusing.
Your support is significant though – sometimes just trying to be there for them is enough. Simply being present, warmly offering support (e.g., telling them they’re important to you and you want to help them), or even supporting them by cooking meals or sending texts to check on them can help. Over time, you may also begin to notice triggers or certain things that may help in certain situations. Make note of these and try to incorporate them into your support.
It might be best to avoid a tough-love approach however, as being callous or impatient with your loved one or trying to challenge them can be hurtful and isolating. Treating depression as something they can simply “get over” invalidates their experience and minimises their pain. You can avoid this misunderstanding by educating yourself about depression. Do some research and learn about the symptoms, course, and outcomes. Equipping yourself with some knowledge can prepare you for ebbs and flows in symptoms.
It is important not to let your support role for this person become your whole life. Instead, try to incorporate it into your life, and remember to care for yourself. Most individuals supporting another with a mental health condition find it helpful to create their own support network. Talk to your loved one and identify people who may be able to help if needed. You may even find online support communities and forums helpful.
For more information on depression, check out the following websites: