While the pandemic itself is a severe health crisis, there is another underlying health issue that is deserving of attention as well. More than a third of Americans have reported feeling depressed and anxious as a result of the pandemic according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. If you know a loved one or a friend who may seem more down than usual, Westmed’s Dr. Sandy Marantz, LCSW, PhD shares some advice on how to reach out and help them.
Know the Signs and Symptoms
You might notice that your friend doesn’t seem like themselves and you might be hesitant to reach out because you don’t know what to say. It’s probably a good time to research the symptoms of depression and figure out if they need your support. “It may take you noticing, and even calling out the signs of depression to a loved one for them to put a name to the feelings they are experiencing. They may not even know they are depressed. Look for signs of lethargy, fatigue, inability to get out of bed, lack of motivation and concentration, lack of appetite or overeating, feelings of worthlessness, feelings that life is futile or any mentions of suicide – these are all common symptoms of depression. Especially if you’re living with that person, you will be able to see these symptoms and step in a lot sooner” says Dr. Sandy Marantz.
Address the “Elephant in the Room”
A good way to start the conversation is to approach the person with an open and non-judgemental question or statement, such as “you don’t sound like yourself”, “is something troubling you?” or “how long have you been feeling like this?”. Let your friend speak openly and get a sense of the degree of his/her emotional pain. If you’re hearing about hopelessness and lack of functioning, it might be a good time to go over to their house and have a talk with them. If that isn’t a possibility due to COVID-19, try to reassure your friend that you are there for them, and available for a phone call or zoom call at any time. You may also want to suggest they see a therapist. Following up so they know you are truly there as a support person will go a long way to helping them feel heard.
Show Your Support
You can help a friend who is depressed by telling him/her that you value and love them and you don’t want anything to happen to them. Offer to stay over and call daily with uplifting thoughts and lots of love, so this person feels comfortable when they are ready to talk about their feelings. Remind them how your life has been enriched by him/her. Suggest that sometimes people get down and it passes, however if it doesn’t pass continue to persuade your friend or loved one to seek professional help which includes calling their primary care professional.
Talking is so Important and Can Help Ease the Burden
Tell your friend or loved one that talking about whatever they are going through might help to ease their pain and worry. If they don’t want to talk, suggest that they journal, draw or paint their feelings. The important thing is to get it out. Encourage them to do any type of exercise because “moving a muscle, changes a thought”. You can also watch a comedy with them or talk about positive things. Tell them they will be ok. Plan a good time together. Help them create a gratitude list. Encourage them to try to help someone they love and in this way they are also helping themselves. Tell them that where there is life, there is hope and that you will always be there.
Talk of Suicide or Self-Harm
September is national suicide prevention awareness month, so it’s important to talk about this.
Remember that it’s not normal to have thoughts or talk of suicide. This is even more of a worry if this person has a history of suicidal ideation (thoughts) and if they are thinking about suicide excessively. It’s normal sometimes for people to be curious about suicide, read about it and think about it briefly but usually they would quickly release these brief thoughts and say they would never do it. “If I had a friend tell me that they have been thinking about suicide I would tell him/her that they need to call their therapist if they have one. If they don’t have one, I would ask to speak to one of their family members or I would personally take them to a psychiatric emergency room,” says Dr. Marantz.
If your person is talking about hurting themselves, it’s not a good idea to leave them alone. Take them to a psychiatric emergency room or have a trusted family member take them. You may also consider calling 911 and waiting with them until the ambulance pulls away.
If you feel you need some help managing anxiety or depression, Westmed’s behavioral health team can be there to lend support.
If you are in immediate crisis and/or feel suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255