Caring for the Depressed

~ By Douglas Feil, MS, Licensed Professional Counselor ~

Depression is a pervasive problem in our society.  Surveys done by the National Institute of Health show that 1 in 5 Americans are clinically depressed at any moment in time.  Depression is harmful personally (i.e. higher rates of illnesses and suicide), in our families and in society in general.  What is it and what can be done about it?

There are many aspects to depression which contribute to its pervasiveness including:

  • Medical Causes: There are a wide range of medical conditions and medications that contribute to depression.  When you encounter a depressed person, it’s always a great first step to have them get a physical to either treat or rule out medical causes.
  • Attitude: The field of “positive psychology” is showing the value and importance of forgiving people who have hurt them rather than carrying bitterness or resentments.  We also know that people who have hope are less likely to be depressed than those who let themselves feel hopeless or trapped.  Our perceptions of life we allow ourselves to experience have a large impact and can cause or worsen depression or actually help lessen depression.
  • Genetic: There are personality styles and genetic makeup that contribute to some people being depressed.  This includes family of origin genetics that can predispose people to a tendency towards depression.  There is also seasonal affective disorder when people feel depressed when they lack sunlight, i.e. wintertime, cloudy stretches of time.
  • Emotional: Many emotional factors contribute to depression including grieving, abuse and trauma, feelings of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness, and difficult periods of transition and pain.  Holidays can be difficult for people who feel alone or have dysfunctional families.

What can you do to help?  Ideas include:

  • Get involved.  Let the person know someone notices and cares.  Be careful to keep healthy boundaries as you care, but engage with them.
  • Direct them to the proper medical resources to treat or rule out medical causes.
  • A physiological cause of depression is lowered serotonin levels.  Encouraging the person to do the 5 basic self-care steps to increase serotonin levels naturally is always helpful.  They are: 1) 7-9 hours of seep a night; 2) healthy nutrition; 3) 15-20 minutes of exercise a day; 4) 30-minutes of sunlight a day; and 5) stress reduction.
  • Challenge them to not just “accept” or “live with” depression, but to rather get help and do something about it.  This may include seeking counseling, being evaluated for medication, focusing prayer and meditation on the causes, and receiving support from others during seasons of grief, transition, and other life experiences.

Always remember that depressed people are a potential suicide risk, so take their comments seriously and take appropriate action when necessary.  Don’t be afraid to ask them if they think about suicide – you won’t “cause them to do it” but rather may help save someone’s life.

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