05 November 2019
In her latest blog for us, Beth Britton writes about depression and how to support a person who is depressed…
Depression is one of the most common health conditions in the UK and worldwide. Indeed, depression was second only to high blood pressure in data looking at common health conditions that was collected from English GP practices during 2018-2019, with a prevalence rate of over ten percent.
Yet, as many a person with depression will attest to, recognising that you have depression can be a difficult personal journey, and opening up about your depression can lead to comments that you’re just “feeling a bit low”, that “we all feel like this from time to time” or you just need to “snap out of it”.
What is depression?
Depression is about so much more than just ‘feeling low’, as Rethink Mental Illness explain. Most people experience low spirits at some point in their life, but depression is a more persistent problem that doesn’t go away or comes back repeatedly. The symptoms are many and varied, but include feelings like unhappiness, hopelessness and tearfulness.
Losing interest in things you used to enjoy is also common, and overall depression can affect every aspect of your life including your appetite, sleep, relationships, ability to care for yourself or your home, and often leads to isolation and loneliness. At worst, mental health problems like depression can fuel suicidal thoughts, as I wrote about in my recent World Mental Health Day blog.
What causes depression?
Some people find that depression is triggered by a particular life event, like health problems or bereavement. For example, amongst older people dementia and depression often coincide, and in terms of bereavement, a loved one dying can lead both to intense grief that triggers depression and isolation or loneliness that feeds depression. For other people, they may never be able to pinpoint when their depression began or simply cannot remember a time when they weren’t depressed.
Changes in the seasons can also adversely affect people with depression, and indeed cause a particular type of depression called Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD commonly affects people in the winter months, when our reduced exposure to sunlight can lead to an imbalance in our hormones and upset our internal body clock. People with dementia or mild cognitive impairment may be particularly affected by the changing seasons with a study published in 2018 showing that cognition can decline in winter and spring.
Whilst there are drug treatments for depression, these don’t suit everyone and can be addictive. Non-drug treatments, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling, can also be effective but again they don’t work for everyone.
For most people, treatment is more effective when it’s combined with a supportive network of close confidantes – friends, family, neighbours or a live-in companion – access to empathetic healthcare professionals and therapists, and an exploration of the many self-help methods that are linked to treating depression including the Five Ways to Wellbeing.
Supporting a person with depression
I know from my friends who live with depression that by being someone who keeps in touch with them, I’m letting them know that they always have someone to talk to. If you’re unsure what to say to someone you care about who is living with depression, keep it simple – ask how the person is or offer to support them to seek help, avoiding any clumsy remarks that might dismiss their depression.
Being open about any mental health struggles you have can help a person with depression to open up to you, and providing practical support to enable the person to do as much as they can, rather than taking over yourself, can help the person to feel a sense of achievement again.
About the author:
Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care https://www.bethbritton.com.
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