There are few things that can make a person feel more helpless than watching a loved one suffer. When someone we care deeply about is experiencing depression or anxiety it can often feel as though they are a million miles away, or at the bottom of a deep pit, unreachable. And worse, at times it can seem as if they don’t even want our help. They may lash out and push us away. So here are some steps to spotting depression or anxiety in your loved one. Are they depressed, or just angry? What are the signs they are in trouble and need help? And what can you do about it?
Common symptoms of Depression and Anxiety:
These are just some of the signs that can be present when someone you love is suffering from Depression or Anxiety. However, this is not meant to be a diagnostic tool. Proper screening from a medical or mental health care professional is always best if you suspect that a mood disorder is present. This is listed here to assist you in helping your loved one identify the need for professional help, should it arise. Additionally, a person may only be experiencing only a few of the symptoms, or many.
Sadness can be expressed by frequent crying or statements of hopelessness and negativity that may be uncharacteristic for the person.
Irritability – for some, sadness or anxiety are expressed more through anger, frustration, or a “hair trigger” temper.
Guilt/shame – taking on more than their share of the blame for things.
Loss of joy or lack of interest/pleasure in things they usually enjoy. In the case of postpartum issues, there may be a lack of interest in the baby.
Overwhelmed, insecure – feeling inadequate for things they used to handle well.
Constant worry that something bad will happen. Sometimes the “something bad” is nothing specific, more of a general feeling, and sometimes there are specific fears.
Changes in sleep or appetite – either increased or decreased.
Changes in how they move or talk – fidgeting, talking a lot, maybe they’re thoughts are racing; or maybe they’re hardly moving, don’t get out of bed, or don’t talk much anymore, are much less social.
They seem to have trouble concentrating.
Physical complaints – dizzy spells, hot flashes, nausea can sometimes arise as a result of mood disorders. These symptoms should also be reported to a medical doctor to rule out physical causes.
Self care – if your loved one is not taking care of themselves like they usually do (in terms of bathing and dressing themselves), it can also indicate a mood disorder. Of course, if they are a new parent, this is to be expected to a certain degree.
Suicidal thoughts – lastly, but most importantly, are suicidal thoughts or statements. These thoughts can range from passive thoughts such as wishing they’d never been born or wishing for a fatal accident to befall them to active thoughts of taking their own life or wishing to be dead. Whether active or passive, these thoughts should be taken very seriously. Aside from talking about death and suicide, here are some other warning signs of suicide: Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate, acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways, getting affairs in order and saying goodbye, seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects, and sudden sense of calm after a depression. Calling an emergency hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or going to visit the emergency room would be recommended. Do not leave your loved one alone if you suspect they are suicidal. Speak up, ask them about it. It could save their life.
The bottom line when it comes to figuring out if your loved one is depressed or anxious is this: you don’t have to diagnose them. That is not your job. Instead, ask yourself if it seems as if they are exhibiting changes in their overall mood, functioning, and reactions to the world from their normal way of being. Then leave the diagnostics up to a professional.
My loved one seems depressed. What do I do now?
Even if you think your loved one might have clinical depression or anxiety, they might not either be ready to accept this or feel ready to get help. Sometimes the idea of reaching out for help is itself overwhelming. They can feel stuck, and so can you. So what can you do?
Let them know you are available to help. Whatever they might need to get screening or treatment going, whether it’s assistance finding someone to talk to (a doctor or counselor), to calling the provider, sorting out insurance, or giving them a ride to the appointment. Let them know they are not alone.
Listen without judgement. Try to avoid advice for the time being, other than gentle encouragement for them to talk. One helpful way to respond is by reflective listening, where you repeat back what you’re hearing them say using your own words. This helps a person feel understood, and gives them the opportunity to correct the line of communication if you haven’t exactly understood. If your loved one is lashing out with anger, what is at the heart of that anger? Is there something they’re asking for? If you are feeling angry at being attacked, ask for a 20 minute break, and assure them you’ll come back together to talk it over when you’re both more calm. Be sure to follow through.
Reassure and encourage them. As you discuss depression or anxiety, be sure to emphasize that it’s not their fault; it’s not a “weakness,” but rather a temporary illness not unlike Bronchitis or high blood pressure. With treatment, they will get better.
Be sure your loved one is eating and sleeping. Encourage good nutrition and sleep habits. The effect of food and sleep on mood is often overlooked yet can be significant. Exercise can also be very helpful to moderate mood. Help your loved one avoid self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
Ask for help, information, support. With your loved one’s approval, try to engage friends and family to activate their support network. Attend appointments with your loved one if possible, especially if you are a spouse and you’ve just brought baby home. Look for support groups, and find information on the internet specific to your loved one’s situation.
When we watch our loved ones suffer, we suffer. We feel the urge to swoop in and fix. But when the person we love is suffering from Depression or Anxiety, there is no “fix,” and our attempts can sometimes cause more stress, for both people. This is not an easy road to be on. Which brings me to my last tip:
Manage your own self-care. Watching your loved one suffer is very stressful, and even more so if they refuse to get help. Find ways to take care of yourself during this process.
If you are stretched beyond your limit, you will be unable to help your loved one. Instead of one person helping to support the other toward recovery, there will be two people having their own difficulties functioning.
With support and professional help, Depression and Anxiety are treatable conditions. As the loved one of someone suffering, there is also support available to you. You are not alone. Recovery is on the horizon.