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When Someone You Know Suffers From Depression
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, September 2014

Robin Williams' passing prompted a public discussion about depression and substance abuse. Perhaps his death and these conversations will help uncover some of what has been "hidden" and help diminish the stigma felt by those who live with mental illness. Hopefully, those who are affected will be encouraged to talk about their experiences with friends and family, and family members and friends will discover ways to be empowered, effective supporters.

Mental illness often "invisible" and many who suffer do so alone. Even when family and friends observe changes in a loved one, they often feel unable to alter the situation. There still is stigma attached to mental illness (and to depression in particular). It is essential to get appropriate and excellent treatment. Until we raise awareness about brain diseases such as depression people will continue to have difficulty "opening up" and the people who love them will not know how they can be most helpful.

Depression often goes hand in hand with substance abuse. Treating both is imperative yet often difficult. Therapy, medication, meditation, talking with others who share similar experiences, and connecting with one's spiritual life, can all be valuable parts of a treatment plan, along with non-judgmental, supportive family and friends who allow the person to heal in their own time. Patience, compassion, and companionship can have positive effects in the life of someone who is depressed.

Depression appears to be caused by several factors in combination among them genetic, biological, environmental and psychological. Knowing some of the common symptoms helps in recognizing what is going on. When severe symptoms such as feelings of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, fatigue, experiencing little or no interest in what previously were pleasurable activities, feeling restless or removed, difficulty or inability to organize simple activities or make decisions, thoughts of death or suicide, interfere with the ability to work, sleep, focus on study, eating and the basic enjoyment of life, it is essential to seek help or to assist someone get help.

It is not always easy to help someone get treatment. We can attempt to reassure them that they are loved and valued (they likely feel neither) and that they deserve to have a better life. What sometimes helps is to set sensible goals and take on reasonable responsibilities. The responsibilities may not be what they were in the past, but doing something can be mood changing. Helping someone set their priorities and reducing large tasks to smaller ones, and focusing on completing tasks, step by step, is also a way to get through when everything feels overwhelming. We can be good listeners. When someone is depressed, they often want to be alone and they keep their "dark mood" a secret. If we can, it is sometimes comforting to someone who is depressed, to do things with a person they care about, even if the things are not "earth shattering." Sometimes, taking in a movie, going for a walk, or meeting for coffee, enable someone to look forward to something.

Day to day, little by little, people can begin to see a bit of light in their darkness.

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