Depression can be an isolating, debilitating condition for the people who live with it every day. I actually lost my uncle to suicide, so mental health and making sure to “check in” with people is something I consider really, really important.
So, what causes depression? And if there’s no cure, what kinds of treatment options are there?
Also how can those without depression best “be there for” people with depression — especially when depression is often such a silent illness?
Let’s start answering some questions!
Depression is Complicated!
On Twitter, journalist Kelly McBride mentioned that one of the things to AVOID when talking about painful topics like depression and suicide is not oversimplifying the cause. As a fitness coach, I absolutely love talking about the amazing effects of exercise on dopamine and serotonin levels, or about how Dr. Georgia Ede on a Ketovangelist episode said that keto boosts GABA levels in the brain, and boosts neurogenesis, which both fight depression…or how a poor low-fat diet messes with blood sugar, which can absolutely lead to depression.
…But, at the same time, depression is SO complicated, and I know that depression people always hear “have you tried this? Have you tried that?”
And they HAVE tried EVERYTHING already! Also, it’s just about impossible to “try” to fix your mental illness when you can’t even get out of bed.
Depression is like a broken arm. It’s real, it’s extremely painful, and it’s very unlikely that it can heal itself without outside help!
Because, yes, taking 5-HTP supplements to make serotonin more available to your brain, or doing yoga for stress relief, may help with mild depression when the cause of that depression is a chemical imbalance, or stress.
But, there are so many things that can cause depression, which also complicates the methods of treatment. Scientists say that there are up to 10 causes, like traumatic life events; genetics; another health condition that’s reducing quality of life…and, yep, poor diet and lack of exercise.
And for all these causes, there are lots of different treatment options. The two most common are medication and psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (teaching people to recognize and fix distorted, negative beliefs about themselves).
Obviously, getting someone to reframe their entire perspective on LIFE…built over years and years of intrusive negative thoughts…is something best left to a trained medical perspective.
But I understand how much we also want to help one another, and reach out to someone who’s hurting. And if YOU’RE the one suffering from depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, you probably really want to be reached out to in some way, but what exactly does “reaching out” look like when you don’t feel like talking? When everything feels hopeless?
First, I’ll give the main “DON’T”…How not to interact with a depressed person: DON’T give unsolicited advice. Unless the person asks for how you think they should solve a specific problem, or guidance on what they should do about their depression, DON’T be one of those “have you tried this? Have you tried that?” people! It makes a person with depression feel like you aren’t really listening, and don’t understand the depth of their problem, when you ask them if they’ve tried those shiny Instagram vitamins yet!
So, what about the main “DO”? Actually, there are two! First, ask questions about their feelings, without prying too much. “How did you feel when that happened? How are you feeling now? Is there any way you can think of that I can help? Are some days better than others? Anything that makes you feel worse?”
Then, LISTEN to their answers!
The second “DO” is, sit with them in silence!
Maybe the person with depression in your life doesn’t feel like dog-walking or going for brunch like you usually do on Sundays, but it’s important to let them know that you’re here for them if they need you, and you care, even if that means just sitting together, not saying anything.
Most importantly, if your depressed friend or family member doesn’t seem to be “getting better,” don’t feel discouraged. Always keep trying, but don’t be afraid to take time out to yourself, too, so you don’t get drained!
For most sufferers, depression never COMPLETELY goes away, but your love is a powerful thing, and it is helping, whether it appears that way on the surface or not.
The Hidden Depression
But what about when “not saying anything” means, you don’t even KNOW that somebody is depressed?
With Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, they were such driven, free-spirited, inspiring people…and a lot of depressed people are! Spade was so fun and energetic, and Bourdain was so adventurous. Nobody knew they were depressed.
In fact, a recent CDC report showed that in over 54% of suicides, the person had no record of depression, and nobody knew they were suffering. That makes suicide prevention one tough issue.
So, if someone’s depression is flying “under the radar,” what can you do?
Well, the same “DOs” that we already mentioned are, honestly, all you CAN do. TALK about feelings. Talk about your own feelings and, without prying or hassling, let the people you love know that they can come to you about anything.
Always repeat to everyone and remind everyone that you love them and you are always available…depressed people often think that coming to others with their problems makes them a burden, which is not true at all. There’s no harm in reminding people that you love them, and making time for them, so they know you are always someone they can go to for help!!
I think the most important thing for suicide prevention is, SOCIETY needs to develop and present a better understanding of mental illness.
Depression and anxiety can be genetic, or a chemical imbalance…and it can also strike anyone at any time. Depression doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re male or female, young or old, rich or poor.
But that also means there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you’re suffering from mental illness yourself, or you’re close to someone who’s dealing with it, remember that it isn’t your fault, and that someone wants to help, including me.
Crisis Text Line: 741-741
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255