…would you like to help ?
Depression is a debilitating mental disease which affects up to one in every eight South Africans. Although this serious disease is treatable, symptoms can persist for years or even a lifetime is treatment is not sought. Treatment is successful in over 80% of those suffering with serious depression, and optimally includes the use of medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy) and supportive social interactions.
However, as many as two thirds of depressed people do not obtain appropriate treatment, primarily because they do not recognise their illness as depression, or because they ascribe their symptoms to personal weakness. The very nature of the disease can interfere with a sufferer’s ability to live a productive and happy life, decreasing self-esteem, energy and self-worth. Those suffering from depression need supportive and empathic encouragement from family and friends to seek treatment for the disease, with some requiring even more help that they may need to be taken for treatment.
If you suspect someone may be suffering from depression, your input and assistance may be vital in allowing the sufferer to return to a happy, productive lifestyle. Awareness and support are the two most powerful tools a person can make use of in assisting a depressed friend :
Be on the lookout for depression – typically a feeling of constant sadness in which your friend may be unable to cope with life. Although bereavement, work stress, financial and relationship concerns and physical illness are possible causes, the disease may present without an obvious cause. Common symptoms include a lack of enthusiasm or ability to enjoy recreational activities, tearfulness, difficulty concentrating, sleep difficulties, irritability and anxiety, negative thoughts and suicidal ideations as well as avoidance and social isolation.
As a friend, your first priority is to provide support and steer the sufferer in the direction of appropriate treatment. Encourage the sufferer to talk and most importantly, listen to what is being said. Allow for discussion of the person’s worries,
fears and thoughts, and talk about possible solutions and sources of support. Avoid trying to tell your friend exactly what to do. Encourage your friend to visit a doctor – you may offer to accompany him or her to the doctor. If medication has been prescribed, encourage compliance and correct use. Find out what support services are available, and provide the contact details of the Depression and Anxiety Support Group in Johannesburg (Telephone 783-1474/6 or 884-1797) or any other help line or support organisation. Your continued contact is important – stay in contact and try to involve your friend in recreational or social activities (remember that you should not restrict your own lifestyle while trying to help – you may also become vulnerable and require support – the Depression and Anxiety Support Group also offers assistance in this regard).
Remind the sufferer that depression is an illness like any other, and that it can be treated successfully. Encourage healthy eating habits and regular exercise. Your praise of the sufferer’s daily activities can provide enormous encouragement and relief, try and be aware of the slightest signs of improvement and build on these.
It is important not to become disheartened if all is not progressing as well as you may have hoped – remember that just by being there, you are helping.