Are you worried about a loved one? Maybe it’s a friend, a colleague, a partner, or a parent? It can be really hard to tell if someone is struggling – sometimes you might have your concerns but be unsure what it all means, and sometimes people suffering with mental illness can become very good at covering their symptoms and pretending things are okay when they’re not.
So how do you know if someone you care about is suffering with depression?
For starters, it’s really important to remember that depression – like most mental health – is complex, and can appear in many different ways in different people. Sometimes people might suddenly start exhibiting lots of the symptoms outlined below, while other times you may only notice slight changes to indicate that there’s something going wrong. In other cases, symptoms build up slowly, making them harder to recognise.
We’ve brought together a list of 7 things that can help you in better understanding what depression might look like, and to get an idea of whether your loved one might be affected. Keep in mind that this list doesn’t cover everything, and you should consult a medical professional if you are concerned about someone.
1. Have You Noticed Changes?
Are you in a situation where you’ve noticed changes, and aren’t quite sure what they mean? Often trusting your instinct, or that ‘gut feeling’, is a really good starting point.
Depression can be tricky to identify because, realistically, everyone feels a little flat sometimes. Life has its ups and downs, and it’s common to experience some of the ‘down’ part without it becoming a serious depression. However, as a general rule, if it persists for more than two weeks it could be more significant than just feeling flat. So ask yourself: is my loved one not quite their normal self? Has it been more than a couple of weeks? And if the answers are yes, trust your gut feeling. It might be time to start a conversation. Of course, if you see dramatic changes over a short timeframe and have concerns, definitely reach out to a health care professional.
2. Feelings Of Depression
It’s easy to think of ‘unhappiness’ as the central feeling to do with depression. While this can certainly be the case, there are many other feelings that go along with being depressed too. They include feeling easily overwhelmed, guilty, irritable, frustrated, underconfident, unhappy, indecisive, disappointed or disillusioned, miserable and sad. This can be a lonely state for people who are suffering depression, and knowing that a loved one cares can really help a lot.
3. Key Behaviours
Depending on how close you are to someone, and how comfortable they are with what they’re experiencing, it can be hard to tap in to what they’re feeling. In some cases, it can be easier to think about whether your loved one is exhibiting different behaviours from normal.
For example, are they avoiding going out, and withdrawing socially? Are they avoiding conversations? Perhaps they don’t seem to be enjoying things that they used to do. If work has become challenging, they may be struggling to keep up with and concentrate on their normal tasks and activities.
In some cases too, their behaviour around drugs and alcohol may have changed – sometimes people end up using alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better.
Some of these changes in behaviour, and acting ‘out of character’ can be an indicator of something going wrong.
4. Physical Symptoms
Mental health issues can have a significant impact on how someone is feeling physically, too. Some people experience extreme tiredness. Others experience changes in appetite – either in the form of an increase in appetite or as a decrease and a lack of interest in food. As a rule, either an increase or decrease of more than 5% of your bodyweight across a month would be considered significant.
Beyond that, some people experiencing depression will also experience pain, such as head aches or muscle pain, and symptoms such as a churning gut.
Your loved one might be battling thoughts of being a failure, or be thinking that their struggles are their own fault. Stigma may be playing a role too – they may be thinking that there’s no one they can talk to. We know now that stigma around mental illness is unwarranted and unhelpful, but it can still be there for some people.
6. Sleep Disruption
This too can take many forms. For some people, it might be difficult to get to sleep at night. For others, it might be an overwhelming tiredness that leads them to sleep excessively. In some cases, it can be falling asleep but waking in the early hours of the morning, unable to get back to sleep.
7. Talk Of Self-harm
While some symptoms of depression can be hard to pinpoint and difficult to diagnose without an expert, ideas or discussions around feeling like ‘life’s not worth living’, or that ‘people would be better off without me’ mean you should probably talk with a professional. If you have concerns about someone’s immediate safety, contact a hospital or mental health help line and talk with them about your concerns.
It’s really important to know that, just like many other illnesses and mental health issues, there are treatments available for depression and they can help your loved one feel like recovery is not too far away. Sometimes the best thing to do is just start a conversation. Don’t hesitate to talk to someone – your support might be really helpful for them. You could start with a very simple question like “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately – is everything okay?”.
And then be ready to listen: give them a chance to open up and talk about what they’ve been experiencing. Encourage them to seek professional help – checking in with a doctor or health professional will often been the best way for them to get started on the road to recovery.