Identifying and understanding depression as a layperson

By Melanie Jacob
Journal Editor

It doesn't have to touch you to keep you bedridden for weeks on end. Depression is a mood disorder that slowly seems to be taking over some people's lives and yet there is no cure-all solution.

"There is no single cause. Sometimes it's hereditary and not everyone who has it experiences it the same way," said Brendon Gibson, an additions counselor who has experience counseling depressed patients. "There's a variety of symptoms, how frequently they occur, and how long do they last."

Unfortunately, the wide variety of symptoms and causes makes this particular disorder difficult to deal with both for the patient and for the therapist. In a professional sense, the only concrete options people can turn to are therapy and medication. As such, patients might have to try an assortment of medication before the psychiatrist can determine the most effective combination.

"At its core, perfect ideal therapy would be a perfect combination of therapy coupled with medication," said Gibson. "Medications work, but it takes time trying various types."

Despite the range in symptoms, there are some commonalities that people can look out for when assisting a person who experiences depression. There might be physical symptoms, such as aches and pains, or habitual ones, such as sleeping too much or too little and a significant change in sex life. Of course, there would also be the consistently low moods that last for more than several days at a time and usually result in a lack of motivation to do anything.

"In its mildest form, someone might have a bad day-to-day life with low moods, but still put on a brave face," said Dee Drummond-Goldman, services co-ordinator at Partners Family Services in Humboldt. "At its most severe, the person may not be able to go to work or have healthy relationships. They might even be self-harming or considering suicide. Some people talk about a spiraling out of control feeling."

According to Drummond-Goldman, being able to identify people with depression depends on your relationship with them and what you know about them. A person in close contact would be able to identify changes in eating patters, lack of interest in hobbies, self-inflicted isolation, listlessness, etc. If a person has recently undergone a dramatic change in their life, such as bereavement or a serious illness, that could be a sign to watch for an onset of depression.

If a person is unsure as to how to handle a depressed person, the one thing they shouldn't do is be dismissive about it. Since the disorder covers such a wide range, it's sometimes difficult for outsiders to see the difference between milder forms of depression and someone who's simply having a bad day or a bad week. As such, the response patients sometimes get can be just as damaging.

"Don't minimize how someone is feeling; they can't just 'shake it off,'" said Drummond-Goldman. "Listen to what they have to say, even if they don't need any advice."

While it's important for people suffering from this disorder to seek professional, Drummond-Goldman says there are some things the individual can try initially just to see if it helps, such as changing the diet and exercising more. Anyone in close contact with the person should encourage him/her to seek professional help.

"A lay person is trying to give advice, but the professional's goal is to work collaboratively and develop goals and actions to motivate that action from within," said Gibson. "Therapy doesn't occur in a steps; it's always dynamic and changing and no two sessions are ever the same."

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