This is Part II in a series of articles about living with a friend or close family member who is depressed. This article is the result of surviving and coping with this experience for a very long time. Hopefully some of this may help a few people reading this blog who are in the early stages of dealing with such an experience and the hopeless feelings of having someone that they love transform into an entirely different unhappy person. As stated in Part I, their depression was not caused by you. It is a medical problem. Don’t feel guilty.
Almost 7% of the U.S. adult population will experience a major depressive disorder each year. That is almost 20 million Americans. 70% of adult depression occurs in women. So the odds are very strong that someone close to you is going to experience it during their lifetime. You need to recognize it in its early stages before it has a chance to take hold and do permanent damage to this friend. You also need to learn some survival skills for yourself, if you are going to be of use to your partner who is suffering.
This is not a medical site, nor do we pretend to be doctors. However, these are my observations after dealing with a depressed person for over 26 years which calculates to 9,500 consecutive days — probably 9400 more days than a practicing psychiatrist had in medical school training for depression.
Granted, not each and every day will the affected person be showing symptoms. Months and even years can pass in between depressive episodes. However, you should learn to see the signs once they are beginning to slide backwards, in order to possibly intervene medically or show them that you are aware of changes in their well-being and that you will be there to give them support no matter what happens. It is also the time when you apply the only real remedy you yourself have available — lots of love and hugs and assurance that you will be there for them no matter how bad it gets.
The onset of depression can occur gradually and be difficult to recognize. Or it can be triggered by an event that causes the sudden negativity and outbursts. Some of the obvious symptoms are physical. However, inevitably the cause originates in the brain. If you notice a lot of the following symptoms that concurrently begin to appear, pay close attention to this person. It very likely could mean they are becoming depressed.
- Withdrawn, unable to get out of bed.
- Unable to focus on completing simple tasks that previously were almost automatic (reading the newspaper, cooking, going to the grocery store).
- Unusual amount of fatigue.
- Unwilling to leave the house to do simple enjoyable things such as taking a walk, going out to eat, going to a movie. They become reclusive.
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities such as hobbies, sports, exercise, and sex.
- Overeating or not eating at all — leading to either a rapid rise or fall in their weight. Either way this can be dramatic — such as a change of +/- 20 to 30 lbs in a few months
- Complaints about persistent aches and pains that don’t go away; or those that do go away are quickly replaced by new ones.
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Content to stay inside, in bed, sometimes almost be in a catatonic state
- Unable to express themselves. Changes in their speech pattern.
- Unable to carry on a normal conversation because they cannot remember their own thoughts that were stated moments before or even what you might have just stated.
- Tendency towards manic behavior to find some momentary feeling of happiness — excessive shopping (clothing, jewelry), running up credit card debt, irresponsible behavior towards controlling spending; even taking an unusual amount of trips, generally by themselves, or with someone else other than you. (That could be dangerous.)
- Significant withdrawal from contact with friends and other family.
- Loss of feelings of love or empathy towards others, even the family member (ie. you) that is closest to them and caring for them.
- Sadness that has no apparent reason and does not seem to go away.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Suicidal feelings and possibly suicide attempts.
- Loss of concentration and memory – as simple as walking from one room in the house to another and not remembering why they changed rooms.
- Increase in irritability and even anger towards those nearby. It can be very dramatic when that person was normally very calm, rational and not prone to fits.
- Persistent feelings of emptiness and futility with their own lives.
- The beginning of complaints by them blaming you for most of the above.
An even more serious form of depression can be the possibility that they are Bipolar:
- Suicidal thoughts are much more persistent.
- Extreme highs and lows compared to clinical depression.
- Impulsiveness and engaging in supposedly “pleasurable” high-risk behaviors — gambling, having outside affairs, drinking and drugs.
- Psychotic episodes — having hallucinations or delusions.
- Running away — completely disappearing without giving you any indication of where they are or what they are doing.
Certainly in our day-to-day lives, events can occur that can make us sad, upset, irritable or even feeling a bit depressed. The loss of a job and source of income, or the death of someone in the family would certainly make anyone show some of the above symptoms. However, these sorts of feelings and reactions to specific events can be justified or at least explained by a specific cause. Clinical depression will cause the onset of these symptoms to occur for no apparent reason.
Should you notice that many of the above symptoms are suddenly materializing in your friend or spouse, or if it is just the one most dangerous symptom – talking about suicide or worse, attempting it – you will need to seek immediate medical help for this person. Some drugs can help to stabilize them, though just for a while. Most drugs have nothing more than a numbing effect on the brain just to calm them down without providing any real long-term cure. A few drugs may cause the brain to release serotonin or similar happy brain chemicals for a short period of time, giving the depressed person a mild but temporary happy state of mind.
Unfortunately here lies the problem — what you are witnessing is very likely not going to be recognized or even admitted by your depressed friend or spouse. With depression, most people are in denial. Sometimes its the stigma of mental illness. Or it can be that their perception of their reality is completely skewed. You are able to observe them acting irrationally, being sad along with a lot of the other symptoms. They usually know something is not quite right and that they don’t feel well, but cannot describe and cannot be objective about it nor accepting that they are acting abnormally. In my case, I usually am usually told by the spouse “I am happy, I am fine … you need to go find yourself your own psychiatrist and deal with your own problems.” This is just part of their argumentative, negative behavior … along with being in denial.
There is very little that one can do to help an adult that does not want to be helped. Even doing some diving does not help. The best I can do today is photo of another coral garden absent of any fish, from the Caymans.