Chances are you know someone who is struggling with a mental illness because 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Around 8% of adults will experience a major depression at some time in their lives. You want to help your loved one as best you can but it's hard when you can't see where they are hurt. Here are some things you can say and do to support someone with depression.
Validate their condition. When their pain and symptoms are mostly invisible people tend not to believe them. We still don't know exactly why people get depression, we know that there are imbalances with transmitters in the brain but this doesn't explain why some medications work for some people and why they don't help the next person at all. We know that their pain is real and they didn't choose it.
Do not tell them to think positively, they have tried that already. It is like telling someone with diabetes to think positively to make their blood sugars go down. Often someone living with depression lose friends when they can't think positively. Do not shame them for being negative as this will only make them feel even more guilt; depression makes it easier to experience anger, frustration and guilt. When they experience gratitude and positivity it feels like pretending to them. You may try deflecting the conversation to nicer things in their day, if that doesn’t work focus on what you want out of the conversation, instead of making it about them. Encourage them to talk to you about their diagnosis and what they are feeling when they are ready.
Do help them to adhere to their medications when you can. It’s important to remind them that it takes 4-6 weeks to see any changes IF the right medication was selected. It’s a game of trial and error and they need to be reminded to take it even when it feels like it’s doing anything. Close to half of patients stop taking their antidepressants within four months without discussion with their doctor. For many medications, it’s important to taper off slowly or you can get withdrawal symptoms (even if there wasn’t a noticeable change).
There are many reasons why people stop taking antidepressants and the first step is to find out why. If it’s because of side effects encourage them to see their pharmacist, many of these side effects are transient and go away once their body gets used to the medication. Also let their pharmacist know they are struggling with adherence. We can work with your loved one to educate more on their condition and how the medication works, to make the pills up into blister packs to help keep them on track and work with scheduling around other medications, work or school. If cost is an issue let the pharmacist know and we can do our best to find the lowest cost of the drug.
Lastly encourage them to keep a journal of their journey with mental illness. Tell them to write down how they feel, any changes in mood, when they start and stop taking medications. This can be important later as the person will most likely have to try a few different medications before they find one that works.
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