May is Mental Health Month, a time to focus on the impact that mental health conditions have on millions of people throughout the U.S. Statistics found in 2014 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that approximately 42.5 million adults across the U.S. experience some form of mental illness, and that around 9.3 million have a serious mental health condition that impacts their daily lives.
Of the 42.5 million people with a mental health condition, around 40 million are depressed, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If your loved ones are experiencing depression, it can be challenging to know how to support them most appropriately. It's important to take their feelings into account and learn to be there for them in ways that bring them a sense of comfort.
Here are a few tips for those trying to support depressed family members:
1. Understand the effects that depression has on the body.
The first step for providing the proper care for loved ones experiencing depression is having a basic understanding of what the mental health condition does to the body. According to Healthline, there are a few common emotional side effects of depression, including sudden and overwhelming sadness, a preoccupation with death, memory issues and feelings of emptiness that may be difficult to talk about.
Don't be surprised if your loved ones begin to show physical changes as well. Weight gain is common, along with changes in appetite and chronic aches and pain. They may fall victim to viruses more often than usual, as the immune system is known to weaken in depressed people. Their risk of heart attack also increases, as chronic stress and depression cause blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for blood to travel throughout the body as it should.
2. Remind them that you're there.
Letting your relatives know that you're there if they ever decide they want to talk or need someone to lean on can be enough to aid them in overcoming their depression. Even if they never spill their feelings to you, simply knowing that they have a firm foundation of support can help them feel more optimistic about their chances of recovery. At the same time, however, you have to ensure that you're staying on track with your own life and taking care of your own needs. Seek support if you need help balancing your happiness and health with being there for your family members.
"Ask questions to identify the cause of their feelings."
3. Ask questions.
Your loved ones may not want to talk about how they're feeling, especially if they've become closed off or they've isolated themselves from others. However, Everyday Health highly encouraged asking them questions to help them open up. This also shows them that you understand you don't know what they're going through - assuming that you know how they're feeling can be frustrating for them - but that you want to try to get a good idea so you can help them in any way you can. You may find that the cause of their depression is a fight they had with a close friend, or that they're unsure of where the sad feelings are coming from. Ask questions to identify the cause of their feelings so that you know the best course of action to take.
A few good questions to ask are "When did you first start to feel bad?" "Is there anything that makes you feel better?" and "What makes you feel worse?" These are pretty basic and are less likely to cause your family member to feel uncomfortable.
4. Encourage them to seek support if needed.
If you notice that your relatives are severely depressed, the help they need goes beyond the level of support you can provide. Encourage them to seek professional assistance. This can be a struggle, as those who are depressed tend to resist help. However, research has shown that that support groups are very effective at helping people recover from depression and decrease chances of relapse, according to Everyday Health. Even if they don't think so from the get-go, having someone there to talk to who is going through similar experiences will make it easier to cope.
5. Emphasize that their feelings are temporary.
In addition to reminding your loved ones that they aren't alone and that you're there to help them in any way, it's a good idea to point out that their depression is only temporary. It's easy to believe that depression is a permanent state that they're never going to shake because it has such an impact on people's emotional well-being. Remind them that they may not believe it at the moment, but the way they're feeling will change.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living