Depression is a serious, debilitating illness that affects approximately 350 million people worldwide. For those lucky enough to have never suffered a major depressive episode, it can be easy to write off someone’s depression as simply sadness that lasts a while. But true depression is much more complex than that. If someone you know suffers from depression, read on for some insights that can help both you and them.

Understand that you don’t understand

If you have never suffered from depression, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the range of emotions of a person with chronic depression. Sadness is only one facet of depression, so by understanding that you DON’T understand, you are one step closer to being able to help your loved one deal with their illness.

DON’T tell them to “get over it”

You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient or even someone with a cold to “get over it”, so don’t say it someone who is depressed. The nature of depression is such that sufferers often need to seek professional treatment, perhaps in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy, to find relief from their symptoms. Depression is a real physical illness and should not be taken lightly.

Don’t take it personally

Often people with depression will draw back from friends and family and won’t want to participate in activities that they used to enjoy. Don’t take this as an affront to your relationship. Depression can make a person want to curl into a ball and stay in bed all day. If you feel this is the case, ask your friend if you can come over with movies and a pizza. Just remember not to pressure them if they want to be alone.

Feeling blue

Realise that there are physical symptoms

Depression doesn’t just affect the mind. Physical symptoms can include extreme fatigue, insomnia, appetite changes, gastrointestinal upset, and physical pain in the back or joints. Keep this in mind if your loved one complains about physical problems. They aren’t being dramatic, they really are in pain.

Listen to them – or don’t

We’ve all heard that talking about our feelings helps us clear our minds and process our problems. This is true for some people, but not all. If your friend wants to discuss what’s on their mind, be there with a non-judgmental ear and a shoulder to cry on. If they prefer silence, let them know you are there to listen if they’d like, and drop the subject. Sometimes just having someone nearby can be comforting.

Depression not only affects those afflicted but those around them as well. The right medical treatment is crucial, but support from family and friends is just as essential. If someone you know has untreated depression, offer to assist them in finding resources that could help. You may just make a huge difference in their life.