How to Recognize Depression in Your Loved Ones
Depression and Your Loved Ones
Every day you wake up appreciating your loved ones. Whether they are your friends, family members, coworkers, or classmates, these are the people you call on the phone, text, email, see in the lunch room, and pass by in the halls. They improve your life by boosting your feelings of love, acceptance, and belonging. In many ways, they take care of you, and you want to repay the favor by taking care of them.
These relationships can go smoothly for long periods of time, but trouble can emerge when negative forces begin to insert themselves into the relationship. One of the most troublesome influences is depression.
How Depression Affects Relationships
At best, depression is a mild inconvenience that will hinder the relationship and the well-being of your loved one. At worst, depression will be a catastrophic condition that manages to infiltrate and deteriorate every aspect of your loved one’s functioning.
It takes two to sustain a meaningful, healthy relationship, but the influence of depression can destroy all that you have worked to build. Because of this, identifying the symptoms of depression in your loved one and providing helpful suggestions can aid the relationship.
This is a rare situation where you can be both selfish and selfless. Helping the mental health of your loved one will benefit them as much as you. Here’s how.
Understand the Problem
If you are a true friend, you must practice patience. The first instinct of many is to start searching for symptoms of depression online and finding situations where they exhibited the symptoms.
By rushing to judgment, you risk alienating your loved one through false accusations and finger pointing. Here, the relationship will crumble and any actual signs of depression will worsen.
Begin a more deliberate strategy by taking a few weeks to intentionally observe your loved one. Pay attention to aspects of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to get a clearer picture of their life and their experiences.
Pay attention to changes from their previous state to their current state. Ask them general, open-ended questions to learn how they are feeling and to rate their current stressors. Along the way, ask yourself:
- What could trigger these changes? Depression after moving, a job loss, recent breakup, or death could create significant changes, but so could the flu or premenstrual syndrome. Identifying possible sources will help provide context to their symptoms. Depression can be sparked by life events or nothing at all.
- How am I influencing what I see? It’s challenging to view and record the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of your loved one in a completely objective way. Sometimes people unconsciously look for problems elsewhere to distract them from their own issues. If this sounds like you, you may benefit from focusing on your own problems before tackling those of your loved one.
Gather your information while resisting the urge to analyze it. At this point, your mind needs to be as open as possible. Otherwise, you risk adding your bias to the facts.
Have you experienced this before? What did you do?
- 10% Nothing. I don't need a friend with depression.
- 19% I accused my friend of having depression and they stopped talking to me.
- 71% I carefully approached the situation and it was a success.
Now that you have a solid base of data, you can begin your analysis. It is crucial to note that there is not one kind of depression.
Instead, there are various versions and varieties of depression. Depression is multifaceted, but many of its symptoms will revolve around particular themes that include:
- Poor sleep
- Diet/weight changes
- Reduced energy levels and motivation
- Lower mood or increased irritability
- Poorer attention, memory, and concentration
- Lower self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of guilt
- Increased thoughts or statements about death or wanting to die
Compare your data against the symptoms above to produce a clear picture of your loved one. Remember that someone with a low mood does not automatically qualify for a depression diagnosis.
Clinically significant depression requires multiple symptoms of depression that occur consistently over the course of weeks, not just days or hours. They will significantly impact the life of the sufferer in multiple ways.
As mentioned, depression will not be the primary concern if the symptoms are coming from another source like a medical problem, substance use concern, or mental health condition. Those issues will need to be addressed separately.
Rather than falling into the trap of complaining about the changes to your loved one, use “I statements.”
Talking to Your Loved One
You have gathered the information and compared it against the diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder. Nice work, but all of the previous measures will not make a true difference to your loved one unless you can clearly communicate your concerns in a way that will be met with understanding and acceptance rather than shock, anger, or defensiveness.
A great way to accomplish this is through use of assertive communication. Rather than falling into the trap of complaining about the changes to your loved one, use “I statements.” The I statement is a cornerstone of assertive communication and one that will help you here by allowing you to express how you feel instead of pointing fingers at you loved one.
6 Misconceptions About Depression
Examples of Conversations
Consider this example: I wanted to let you know that I have been worried and concerned about some changes I’ve noticed in you lately. I would appreciate an opportunity to talk to you about them.
Compare the above, assertive style with one that is aggressive: You have been so miserable lately. You need help.
In the first example, you are beginning a dialogue about the noticed changes. The second example focuses on placing blame and responsibility on your loved one, which can be disruptive and isolating.
If your loved one agrees to a conversation, focus on:
- Simply letting them know what you have been noticing
- Expressing your desire to help, not hurt
- Asking a lot of questions so they can tell you how they are feeling
- Identifying what they plan to do about it
- Asking what you can do to help
- Depression at best can affect your relationship with your loved one, and at worst can seriously impact their functioning and life as a whole.
- Helping your loved one with their mental health will benefit them, while also benefitting your relationship.
- Do your research on depression and observe your loved one's actions and behaviors.
- Gather information and analyze their symptoms and stressors.
- Present your information to your loved one in an understanding manner, using "I statements."
- If your loved one agrees to talk about it, express your desire to help them and ask what you can do to help.
- You are not a therapist, so do not diagnose or try to treat your loved one. Your job is to voice your concerns and be there for them!
You are not a therapist; it is not your job to formally assess or treat your loved ones, but you can take steps to improve their happiness by noticing their changes and voicing your concerns to them. Rather than making false accusations, you can assertively address your apprehension, which can lead to your loved one (and your relationship) getting stronger than before.