By Alan Giordano, MSW, LCSW
Most people feel sad or blue every now and then, but when those feelings linger for weeks or months, it could be a sign of depression.
In general, about 1 in every 6 adults experiences depression at some point in their lives.
However, depression has become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with at least one study finding that 33% of American adults experienced depression in 2021.
If someone you know seems to be experiencing depression, it’s important to be there for them. Let them know you care and remind them that help is available.
Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health provides a wide range of outpatient and inpatient services focused on helping adults as well as children and teens with depression as well as other mental health and substance abuse challenges.
Depression is a mental health condition that can affect anyone at any age. The exact cause of depression is unknown, but researchers believe it is influenced by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors.
There are, however, certain risk factors that can increase your chances of becoming depressed. These include:
• Family history of depression.
• Experiencing traumatic or stressful events.
• Going through a major life change, even if it was planned.
• Having a medical problem, such as a heart attack or stroke.
• Taking certain medications.
• Using alcohol or drugs.
Moreover, many people who experience depression also have other existing mental health conditions, including anxiety.
Depression can cause severe symptoms that can affect every aspect of your life, from sleeping and eating to working and enjoying time with family and friends. Common symptoms of depression include:
• Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time.
• Lack of interest in activities that used to be fun.
• Feeling irritable, easily frustrated, or restless.
• Sleep problems, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much.
• Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite.
• Aches, pains, headaches, or stomach problems that do not improve with treatment.
• Trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions.
• Feeling tired, even after getting enough sleep.
• Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless.
• Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, seek help from your physician or a mental health professional. Once diagnosed, depression can often be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing depression, there are things you can say to help ease their pain.
This may be hard to do if the person is not receptive to talking about their feelings, but by starting the conversation, you are leaving the door open for when they are ready.
Here are 10 tips for what to say to someone who may be depressed:
• I am here for you; you are not alone.
• You don’t have to say a thing, but if you want to talk, I am always here to listen.
• I will not judge you; I care about you.
• You don’t have to apologize.
• I am really sorry you are going through this; it must be difficult for you.
• What can I do to help?
• What have you tried in the past that has helped?
• Let’s explore what options are available to help.
• Be kind to yourself.
• Don’t give up.
If the person that you are concerned about is not ready to talk, it can help to focus more on their behaviors rather than their emotions when reaching out to them.
For example, if someone is not bathing or has lost interest in activities that they used to enjoy, focus on those behaviors rather than the emotions that may be involved. It can be easier to discuss and address a behavior than an emotion, and it is a great starting point.
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, take time to check in with family and friends to see if they need emotional support.
Just letting them know that you care can make a difference, and may be the impetus for them to seek professional help if necessary.
For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health or to find a therapist with Princeton House, call 888,437,1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.
Alan Giordano, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and the director of Outpatient Services at Penn Medicine Princeton Health’s North Brunswick location.