It can be challenging to spot symptoms of depression in yourself or a loved one, and to know what to do if you see signs of the condition. “It’s common to be confused or unaware of what to do when you’re experiencing depression,” said Rena Szabo, PsyD, psycho-oncology section director at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, AZ. “Plus, you might not be aware of what depression looks like or feels like.”
It’s crucial to watch for signs of depression these days. Dr. Szabo said the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of depression worldwide. And experts believe that being infected with the COVID-19 virus can affect your mental health, thanks to both your body’s immune response and the psychological stress of a COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Szabo filled us in on how to watch for depression and what to do if you notice signs of the condition.
What are the symptoms of depression?
There are a lot of different warning signs you may experience if you’re depressed. Emotional signs include:
- Low mood
- Not wanting to do things you enjoy
- Irritability and frustration
- Withdrawing from others
- Suicidal thoughts
- Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Trouble with concentration and other cognitive functions
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations
- Negative self-talk
- Forced happiness
- A pessimistic worldview
You may notice physical symptoms as well:
- Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Lack of energy
- Low sex drive
- Changes to your menstrual cycle
- Disturbed sleep – for example, you may find it difficult to fall asleep at night or you may wake up early in the morning
What can you do if you are depressed?
There are actions you can take that can help you reduce the symptoms of depression. “The mind-body connection is essential. Engage in self-care. Prioritize good sleep, good nutrition, fresh air and exercise. Stay connected with friends and family,” Dr. Szabo said.
Simple steps to regain some structure can restore a sense of equilibrium. “Get up at the same time each day. Get dressed. Give yourself at least one accomplishable goal to complete each day,” she said.
It can also be beneficial to:
- Make a schedule or plans
- Get outside in some sunlight
- Take one day at a time
- Embrace positive thoughts
- Consider tracking your mood, sleep and symptoms on paper or with an app
- Be careful with drugs and alcohol. “Alcohol or drug use may be an attempt to ‘self-medicate.’ About one in five people with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder also has depression,” Dr. Szabo said.
Consider seeking therapy
Steps you take on your own may help, but they may not be enough to get your depression under control. Dr. Szabo recommends seeking professional help for depression by contacting a local mental health professional or connecting with someone through mental health telemedicine. Various forms of therapy can help with depression:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal therapy
- Social skills training
- Behavioral activation
- Problem-solving therapy
- Family or couples therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Solution-focused therapy
- Emotion-focused therapy
Medication could help
“There are many different medications that can help reduce the symptoms of depression,” Dr. Szabo said. “Studies have found medication is most effective when it is used in conjunction with therapy.” Some of the medications that are prescribed for depression include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa and Luvox
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), including Effexor, Cymbalta and Pristiq
- Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), including Focalin, Ritalin and Wellbutrin
Spravato (esketamine) is a newer option for adults whose depression isn’t responding to other medications. This nasal spray works within 20 to 40 minutes, compared to the weeks or months it takes for other medications. But there are some risks associated with this drug, so you can only receive it at a certified location, and you need to be monitored for several hours after taking it.
What if I spot signs of depression in someone else?
It can be difficult to see someone you care about struggling with depression or to know how to help a friend who has depression. “It’s important to understand that your loved one can’t help the way they’re feeling, and it’s not their fault. Treating your loved one with compassion, understanding, respect and dignity is incredibly important,” Dr. Szabo said.
You can’t fix someone else’s depression. “There’s no quick fix for depression, and your loved one can’t simply ‘pull themselves together.’ In most cases, it takes professional treatment to overcome depression. The best thing you can do is be as supportive, compassionate and patient as possible,” Dr. Szabo said. If your loved one is open to it, gently encourage them to help themselves — for example, by staying physically active, eating a balanced diet and doing things they enjoy. Consider doing something pleasurable together.
You can also:
- Share information about services such as psychological therapy services or depression support groups.
- Encourage them to seek professional help.
- Stay in touch by messaging, phoning or meeting for coffee. “People who are depressed can become isolated and may find it difficult to leave their home,” Dr. Szabo said.
- Encourage them to see their family doctor or primary care provider, since depression impacts the body and mind.
What should I do if I’m worried about suicide?
Knowing what to do if you think a loved one is suicidal is important. If you or someone you know is talking about or considering attempting suicide and needs help, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) and connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.
The bottom line
“Depression can be immensely challenging. It can seriously impact your physical, mental and emotional well-being, and so much more,” Dr. Szabo said. Recognizing the signs of depression and connecting with help can start you down the path toward healing. If you would like to connect with a behavioral health professional to talk about depression or any other mental health condition, reach out to Banner Health.