How to Help Yourself if You Are Depressed
"It affects the way you think. It affects the way you feel. It just simply invades every pore of your skin. It's a blanket that covers everything. The act of pretending to be well was so exhausting. All I could do was shut down. At times you just say 'It's enough already.'" --Steve Lappen, Writer
Depressive disorders can make one feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and do not accurately reflect the actual circumstances. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime:
- Engage in mild exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or participate in religious, social, or other activities.
- Set realistic goals and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.
- Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.
- Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive.
- Participate in activities that may make you feel better.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time. Often during treatment of depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before depressed mood lifts.
- Postpone important decisions. Before deciding to make a significant transition–change jobs, get married or divorced–discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
- Do not expect to 'snap out of' a depression. But do expect to feel a little better day by day.
- Remember, positive thinking will replace the negative thinking as your depression responds to treatment.
- Let your family and friends help you.
How Family and Friends Can Help
The most important thing anyone can do for a man who may have depression is to help him get to a doctor for a diagnostic evaluation and treatment. First, try to talk to him about depressionhelp him understand that depression is a common illness among men and is nothing to be ashamed about. Perhaps share this booklet with him. Then encourage him to see a doctor to determine the cause of his symptoms and obtain appropriate treatment.
Occasionally, you may need to make an appointment for the depressed person and accompany him to the doctor. Once he is in treatment, you may continue to help by encouraging him to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to lift (several weeks) or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. This may also mean monitoring whether he is taking prescribed medication and/or attending therapy sessions. Encourage him to be honest with the doctor about his use of alcohol and prescription or recreational drugs, and to follow the doctor's orders about the use of these substances while on antidepressant medication.
The second most important thing is to offer emotional support to the depressed person. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage him in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage the feelings he may express, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to the depressed person's doctor. In an emergency, call 911. Invite him for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in some activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not push him to undertake too much too soon. The depressed person needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Do not accuse the depressed person of laziness or of faking illness, or expect him 'to snap out of it.' Eventually, with treatment, most people do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring him that, with time and help, he will feel better.
Where to Get Help
If unsure where to go for help, talk to people you trust who have experience in mental health, for example, a doctor, nurse, social worker, or religious counselor. Ask their advice on where to seek treatment. If there is a university nearby, its departments of psychiatry or psychology may offer private and/or sliding scale fee clinic treatment options. Otherwise, check the Yellow Pages under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," or "physicians," for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for a mental health problem, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help.
Listed below are the types of people and places that will make a referral to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services.
- Family doctors
- Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
- Religious leaders/counselors
- Health maintenance organizations
- Community mental health centers
- Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
- University or medical school affiliated programs
- State hospital outpatient clinics
- Social service agencies
- Private clinics and facilities
- Employee assistance programs
- Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
Within the Federal government, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a "Services Locator" for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and resources nationwide. Visit their Web site athttp://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/databases/ or call toll-free, 1-800-789-2647.
A man can experience depression in many different ways. He may be grumpy or irritable, or have lost his sense of humor. He might drink too much or abuse drugs. It may be that he physically or verbally abuses his wife and his kids. He might work all the time, or compulsively seek thrills in high risk behavior. Or, he may seem isolated, withdrawn, and no longer interested in the people or activities he used to enjoy.
Perhaps this man sounds like you. If so, it is important to understand that there is a brain disorder called depression that may be underlying these feelings and behaviors. It's real: scientists have developed sensitive imaging devices that enable us to see depression in the brain. And it's treatable: more than 80 percent of those suffering from depression respond to existing treatments, and new ones are continually becoming available and helping more people. Talk to a healthcare provider about how you are feeling, and ask for help.
Or perhaps this man sound like someone you care about. Try to talk to him, or to someone who has a chance of getting through to him. Help him to understand that depression is a common illness among men and is nothing to be ashamed about. Encourage him to see a doctor and get an evaluation for depression.
For most men with depression, life doesn't have to be so dark and hopeless. Life is hard enough as it is; and treating depression can free up vital resources to cope with life's challenges effectively. When a man is depressed, he's not the only one who suffers. His depression also darkens the lives of his family, his friends, virtually everyone close to him. Getting him into treatment can send ripples of healing and hope into all of those lives.
Depression is a real illness; it is treatable; and men can have it. It takes courage to ask for help, but help can make all the difference.
"And pretty soon you start having good thoughts about yourself and that you're not worthless and you kind of turn your head over your shoulder and look back at that, that rutted, muddy, dirt road that you just traveled and now you're on some smooth asphalt and go, 'Wow, what a trip. Still got a ways to go, but I wouldn't want to go down that road again.'" --Patrick McCathern, First Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, Retired