What is depression?
Why do people become depressed?
How can I tell if someone is depressed?
Are there different types of depression?
Why don't people get help?
If I am depressed, how do I get help?
How do I help a friend who is depressed?
What is the connection between depression and suicide?
How can I tell if someone is at risk for suicide?
Are there warning signs I can look out for?
What if I am contemplating suicide or am a danger to myself?
What if my friend is contemplating suicide or is a danger to him or herself?
Can things get better?
What is depression? Back to top
Depression is a medical illness which affects the brain, which in turn affects the rest of the body. Depression is the most common mental health disorder and affects people of all ages. While everyone can feel down from time to time, with depression these feelings are more severe and occur nearly every day for two weeks or more. Depression is the leading cause for suicide and remains widely misunderstood, often ignored or untreated despite it disrupting work, family relations, and social life. Depression can be properly treated and most people can start feeling well again in a few weeks. But first, depression has to be recognized. Diagnosis is based on how sufferers report they feel, look, and behave. Always consult a qualified health-care provider regarding diagnosis and treatment.
Why do people become depressed? Back to top
Usually it is a combination of environmental, psychological, genetic, and/or biochemical factors that can cause depression. Some examples of these may include a big life change whether positive or negative. Environmental stressors such as a challenging work, personal, and family circumstances or unhealthy thinking patterns can contribute to depressive symptoms. Family history of depression can make someone 11 times more likely to experience depression. Major illness, health conditions, or a recent diagnosis may play a role, i.e. having a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Imbalances of certain chemicals such as decreased serotonin have been associated with depression. Some medications or medication combinations may cause depression as a side-effect. Using alcohol or other drugs may cause or worsen depression as well. Depression can also occur without an obvious reason. Just like everyone’s experience of depression is unique to themselves so are the causes for depression in a person.
How can I tell if someone is depressed? Back to top
Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose depression, but knowing what to look for is an important first step in recognizing when to get help. Though everyone experiences depression differently, the onset of depression is often gradual. Some symptoms of depression can include emotional, physical, and behavioral changes.
A person experiencing depression emotionally may feel sad, empty, hopeless, or numb. A person may feel restless, irritable, or anxious and have difficulty making decisions or concentrating. A person who is depressed will likely not participate in or enjoy those activities that they typically would enjoy. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness may be a sign of depression along with thoughts of death or suicide. Physical symptoms of depression can include low energy, feelings of tiredness, or experiencing headaches, aches, pains, digestive problems, dizziness, or light-headedness. Individuals who are depressed often experiences changes in their appetite (eating more or less) and sleep patterns (sleeping more or less).
If a person is depressed their behaviors may change to include increased use of alcohol or drugs, self-destructive or self-injurious behaviour, loss of control, or uncontrolled rage. A depressed individual may look like they have slowed down, or begin to neglect their responsibilities or their appearance. They may also say things like “What’s the point?”, “Nothing is going right and it won’t either”, “I cry all the time”, “everything annoys me”, “people think I’m crazy”, “I don’t care”, or “no one cares”.
Remember, it may be very difficult to recognize depression as symptoms are often hidden from others or are the individual themselves is unaware of what they are experiencing.
Are there different types of depression? Back to top
Yes, there are different types of depression. When people think of depression most commonly they think of Major Depression where the person feels very low and depressed. Another common type of depression is Bipolar Disorder which includes periods of depression and “highs” or manic phases where the person needs less sleep, feels overconfident, experiences racing thoughts, engages in reckless behavior and has increased energy. Two other common forms of depression includes Dysthymia where the person feels mildly depressed for at least two years and Seasonal Affective Disorder which includes mood fluctuations with the changes of season. Apart from depression, there are a variety of additional psychiatric disorders which may affect a person’s mental health and overall ability to function.
Why don’t people get help? Back to top
People may not get help because they may not know that they need help, where to get it, or they feel that nothing will make it better. A person may also feel that they are the only one feeling this way. Stigmas, the stereotypes or judgements people make, prevent individuals from gaining proper intervention and treatment. Such gender, social, cultural, religious, or personal expectations can cause feelings of shame or fear which prevent people from reaching out for help they deserve. If people do not feel it is okay to talk about what they are experiencing then it becomes almost impossible to get the help they deserve. We must begin by talking about and treating mental health as we do physical health and recognize the importance of getting help for such issues whether they be mental or physical. No one blames or judges someone for needing to go to the doctor, nor should anyone blame or judge someone who seeks psychological support. All forms of health are important and require our care.
If I am depressed how do I get help? Back to top
Know that you are not alone if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. There are many ways to get help by reaching out to others or contacting resources. These people might include a doctor, parent, family member, school counselor, religious leader, etc. If they do not help you, keep looking until you find appropriate help. There are many resources available to guide you about what to do next and how to find services in your area. Treatments are individual to each person and may include “talk therapy” or medication but always consult a qualified medical professional to find out what treatment(s) may be right for you.
How do I help a friend who is depressed? Back to top
It is important to show you care, talk about it, and encourage that they get help. If possible take them to a trusted adult or professional who can help them find appropriate help like a support group, mental health therapist or psychiatrist. Sharing information and resources with them may also be helpful. Your friend may not want help, may deny they are depressed, have difficulty describing their feelings, or not want to talk about it. As a friend, you may be the first to notice that your friend is experiencing these difficulties. If you are concerned about their well-being and they deny help, do not be discouraged if they respond negatively. Do not try to handle it alone as it is helpful to obtain support for yourself as well.
What is the connection between depression and suicide? Back to top
The most common psychiatric diagnosis associated with suicide is major depression. About 66% or 2 out of 3 people who die by suicide were depressed at the time and 75% of those who die by suicide were dependent on alcohol. Of all suicides, 90% had some form of mental illness at the time. Those with major depression are 20 times at higher risk for suicide than the general population. The best way to prevent suicide appears to be early recognition and treatment of depression and/or other psychiatric illnesses.
How can I tell if someone is at risk for suicide? Back to top
It can be difficult to predict death by suicide, but there are risk factors one may look for to identify those at increased risk. For example, a person who has made one or more prior suicide attempt is at higher risk. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women, however, women are three times more likely to report attempting suicide. The presence of a psychiatric disorder or a family history of certain psychiatric disorders increases risk as well. Substance abuse and impulsivity may make an individual more apt to act on suicidal urges. Recent distressing life events such as loss of a loved one, a failure, rejection, abuse, etc. may serve as a trigger for suicide. A person experiencing psychic pain or inner tension, feeling like a burden to others or that they do not belong, hopeless, anxiety, or feelings of guilt may be at higher risk for suicide as well.
Are there warning signs I can look out for? Back to top
About 4 out of 5 people who attempt suicide exhibit clear warning signs, most for over a year before their deaths. Unfortunately these signs are often not recognized by others or are misunderstood. Pay attention if you or someone who know exhibits the following warning signs: talking or thinking about death, acting reckless or engaging in high risk activities, comments on hopelessness or worthlessness, feeling trapped, withdraws from others or activities, perceives themselves to burden others, making final arrangements or giving favorite possessions away, engaging in self-injury, dramatic mood swings, or switches from being very sad to calm or appearing happy. If you are concerned or see any of the above warning signs, ask if they have a plan. This is usually a final step before attempting suicide so if they have a plan do not leave them alone and get help. If possible you may want to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) with them to speak with a trained crisis-counselor and obtain direct guidance.
What if I am contemplating suicide or am a danger to myself? Back to top
Do not handle this alone. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also go to the emergency room of a local hospital. Wherever you are find an adult and seek immediate help. If you are at school you can call security or the campus emergency number. Additional hotlines are available to provide help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is help and things can get better even if it really does not feel that way right now. The most important thing is to secure your safety at this time.
What if my friend is contemplating suicide or is a danger to him or herself? Back to top
If your friend is in danger do not try to handle it yourself and take action. Show that you care, listen and express concern in a non-judgemental way. Do not be confrontational, but do ask directly if they are considering suicide. Ask if they have a plan. Do not keep it a secret and get help. Do not leave your friend alone and seek help immediately from a trusted adult, parent, medical professional, counselor, etc. There are also hotlines you may call (with your friend if possible) to gain direction on what to do next, i.e. National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-TALK (8255). Your friend may not want the help, but it is better to have a mad friend than a dead one.
Can things get better? Back to top
There is hope as things can get better with proper intervention and treatment. It may feel overwhelming to figure out what options are best for you. Nonetheless, it is important to talk about what you are going through and gain the proper support. Approximately 80-90% of people who seek appropriate treatment will return to how they felt and functioned before they were depressed. There are many effective treatment options which may include psychotherapy or talk therapy, medication, etc. Always use a qualified mental health professional to find out which treatment is right for you. Remember that if one treatment or therapist does not work, keep looking. Your mental health is of utmost importance and with proper care it will improve.