Family Help for Depression
by Angela Charles
Depression is a mental illness characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, changes in eating and sleeping habits, isolation, lack of pleasure in activities once found enjoyable and sometimes even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Depression can range in severity per individual and affect people differently during various seasons in life. However, despite the progression of the illness, depression should be taken seriously by both the person afflicted and close family and friends.
It is important for family and friends of individuals dealing with depression to know the facts. Statistics from the Uplift Program, a program developed to provide support and assistance to those who are struggling with depression, state that about 18 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by depression every year. Additionally, Uplift states that the rate of depression among children is rapidly increasing with approximately 4 percent of preschoolers suffering from clinical depression. Uplift also reports that approximately 15 percent of those affected by depression end up committing suicide. For someone witnessing the affects of depression in a loved one, it is important to acknowledge the realities of the disorder.
While everyone experiences "the blues" once in a while, for some people, depression can be a much more intense experience. Major depressive disorder consists of two weeks of symptoms that prevent individuals from functioning normally in their everyday lives. It can occur once in a person's life but most likely it occurs multiple times. Dysthymic disorder is less severe than major depression but lasts a lot longer. To be diagnosed with dysthymia, symptoms must last at least two years and can also cause functional impairments. Psychotic depression is severe and includes hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum depression can occur for some moms after the birth of a baby. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that can occur during the winter months and goes away during the months when there is more natural sunlight.
As a family member who is affected by the depression of a loved one, it is important to take care of yourself while also supporting and caring for the individual who is depressed. It can be easy to put your own needs aside and bury your emotions in order to assist the individual who is diagnosed with a depressive disorder. However, this can be harmful and lead to added stress on you. It is important to process your own emotions that result from caring for the depressed individual. Caregivers may feel a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration etc.
Many people who are caring for individuals who are depressed begin to blame themselves for their loved one's unhappiness. It is crucial to remember that the depression is not your fault. For many people, depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and is caused by a lack of certain neurotransmitters. It can have nothing to do with you or the circumstances in your family.
It is crucial to never lose hope. In most cases, depression can be improved with treatment. A combination of antidepressant medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes can drastically improve the quality of a depressed person's life. Antidepressant medication helps balance out such neurotransmitters as serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters help regulate mood. Psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy examines how negative thinking can lead to depressed moods. Lifestyle changes such as an increase in exercise and healthy nutrition can also improve depressive symptoms.