Helping someone going through a depressive episode is difficult as a friend, spouse, parent, sibling or caregiver. As with any other mental health concern, there are varying degrees, types, and depth to a depressive episode. So prior to trying to intervene it is important to understand the type of depressive traits or disorder that an individual is experiencing.
Sometimes depression can be related to the environment. There are the ‘winter blues’ or ‘seasonal depression’ that happen as the days get shorter and the temperature gets colder.
Other times depression can be situational. When someone loses a loved one or loses a career they go through the grieving process, in which depressive symptoms are common. Other times the environment may not be conducive, such as domestic violence, which can contribute to depressed characteristics.
In some situations depression can be a hormonal imbalance, such as post-partum depression. Typically in this situation the onset is four weeks after the birth of a child. Depressive episodes may also occur during puberty.
If there isn’t an environmental, situational or hormonal link to the depression, the depression may be organic and internal. It can also be medically tied to someone having a heart attack or cancer.
It is important to note that an individual can experience episodes of major depression without having a major depressive disorder.
When it comes to helping someone with depression the tactics vary depending on which category they fall in. Rushing them to a doctor or psychiatrist for Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibiters (SSRI’s), such as Prozac or Zoloft, is not always beneficial because if the low mood is correlated with the environment, they may not work. However if the depression is organic, SSRI’s may be useful.
An individual in a depressive state may not be talkative, so finding a way to communicate that they are comfortable in, is useful; such as art, writing, texting and so on. Connecting with them on their level helps build a relationship of support that can foster trust.
It is encouraged to not make major life decisions during a depressive episode, such as leaving a job, moving or ending a relationship. While this is logical in that the brain at this point in time is not always capable of making long-term plans, plus judgements are clouded by the mists of depression. There are times where it is illogical, such as if the depression is tied to ongoing domestic abuse or an unhealthy work environment, leaving those situations may improve mental health. So being a support and a voice of reason if there needs to be a major life change is important.
Most of all, it is about the relationship. The help provided will need to fit the individual’s abilities and circumstance. And don’t expect each intervention to respond quickly to helping efforts.