Facts About Depression
Depression has been aptly referred to as the “common cold” of mental health.
Depression (and anxiety) can be effectively treated, a fact that makes the silent suffering even more unsettling and distressing.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) informs that approximately “8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives” and approximately “1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder” (manic depression).
Indirectly, at some point in our lives, depression will touch the lives of virtually every Canadian, through a family member, a friend, or a colleague. And, depression is a great equalizer, as it can affect anyone regardless of his or her age, income, education, or culture.
What is really alarming is that the CMHA also states that, “Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.”
This highlights just how much mental health problems continue to carry a stigma, which in turn becomes a serious barrier to seeking help.
What we do know is that depression (and anxiety) can be effectively treated, a fact that makes the silent suffering even more unsettling and distressing.
As a caregiver, you can play a significant role in helping someone with depression. You can learn the symptoms of depression and raise the issue if you are concerned that the person you are caring for may be depressed.
Breaking the silence by raising the issue also chips away at the stigma. And, not least important, you are bringing the knowledge that depression can be overcome. A person who is depressed often feels hopeless so you can be like a surrogate for hope until the person regains it for themselves.
We all have our “down” days or feel “blue” at times, but that doesn’t equal depression. It is just part of the human experience to sometimes feel low or “down in the dumps”. And there are times when these feelings make perfect sense – for example when you lose a job, when you have a financial setback, or a relationship ends.
Depression is much more than having a down day and is better described as feeling like you have sunk into a deep dark hole with no way out and no hope that it will ever change.
Depression is also about more than mood, or perhaps a better way of saying it is that depression affects more than mood.
Identifying Clinical Depression
Below are the criteria for identifying the most commonly diagnosed form of depression, a major depressive disorder also known as clinical or unipolar depression.
The point of this list is not so you can diagnose someone (leave that up to the professionals), but simply to help you as a caregiver, and be aware of flags or signals that suggest a person may have a clinical depression.
Also, changes in a person’s mood and behaviours are often quite evident to caregivers, friends and family, so you are in an excellent position to recognize if there is a problem.
Here are the symptoms of clinical depression:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities consistently for a least a 2 week period
- Social, occupational, educational or other important functioning is negatively impacted (for example, missing work or school)
- Feeling hopeless, pessimistic
- Decreased energy and increased fatigue
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Appetite change (increased or decreased)
- Inappropriate feelings of guilt
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (for example, restlessness, inability to sit still, or slowed speech and movements)
- Suicidal ideation or recurrent thoughts of death (suicidal ideas without a specific plan for suicide)
- If someone tells you they are going to kill themselves, take it seriously and call 9-1-1 immediately.
Not everyone who is depressed experiences all these symptoms. For there to be a diagnosis of clinical depression, the person would need to experience 5 or more of the above symptoms.
Negative Effects of Depression
What likely jumps out at you is how invasive depression is, with a negative impact on all facets of a person’s life. At its worst or most severe, depression is like a thief that robs you of your life and the joy of living (that comes with things such as work, relationships and activities).
And you can see why it can be difficult to seek help or treatment—if my mood is depressed and I have little energy, and I can’t imagine that I can feel better or that I can be helped then most likely I will not reach out to others. This is where the importance of caregivers, family and friends, and co-workers comes in.
For a diagnosis of depression, with a treatment plan to follow, a full assessment including a history and, ideally, a physical exam, needs to be completed. Obviously what first has to happen is a recognition or acknowledgement that there is a problem.
As a caregiver, you can, gently and sensitively, let the person you are caring for know that you have noticed a change in their mood and behavior. You can tell them that you notice that they do not seem to be themselves. You can then suggest that they see a doctor or mental health professional.
It may be effective to offer help in making an appointment and going to the appointment with them. This is not to be confused with taking over and becoming controlling – it’s simply being aware that the depression symptoms themselves can stop a person from seeking help. You are offering a rope to help them crawl out of that deep dark hole.
You may need to be mindful that you don’t fall down that deep dark hole yourself. Caring for someone who has symptoms of depression or a formal diagnosis of depression can be, well, depressing.
Seriously, depression can cast a dark shadow for the people caring for and living with someone who has depression. So, you need to be aware of this and take steps to take care of yourself as well.