Depression & Mental Health: Tips For Sufferers & Their Loved Ones

Depression is something that I have learned a lot about over the last few years. However, as someone who doesn’t usually like to shout about personal matters, I was a little unsure about writing a blog post about the subject. After much thought, I remembered something that should never be forgotten: mental health issues aren’t anything to be embarrassed about. They are, after all, pretty common and something we should all be aware of. Everyone knows that life can be a bitch, so we might as well share our experiences and help each other out a little — right?

There are a lot of misconceptions about mental illnesses, which is especially worrying considering they are so prevalent. Too many people are under the impression that depression is, in the words of Dwight Schrute, “a fancy word for feeling bummed out”. Some suggest that it isn’t a real illness, they roll their eyes or suggest that sufferers should just “cheer up”. If only it was that simple.

The truth is, if we were all more informed about these issues, then those suffering might find it easier to speak out and seek help, and we might all make our mental wellbeing a priority. After all, our mental health doesn’t look after itself — much like our physical health — and no one is immune to illnesses such as depression. We should all be aware of the warning signs and know when and how to seek help.

Here are a few things that I have learned.

Some symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling tired for no apparent reason; sometimes paired with inexplicable shakes, aches and pains.
  • Forgetting how to be yourself.
  • A general lack of motivation; often simple tasks like getting out of bed and showering can seem really difficult.
  • Insomnia or a disrupted sleep pattern.
  • Feeling irritable or intolerant of situations and others.
  • An inability to find enjoyment in things, and a loss of interest in hobbies and passion projects.
  • Anxiety; some often experience panic attacks or an overwhelming feeling of being trapped or out of control.
  • Finding it difficult to take part in social activities.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Feeling tearful for no obvious reason.
  • Finding that you are unable to focus or process information on occasions. Some can also experience memory lapses more often than usual.
  • Suicidal feelings; something that no one should have to experience.

Some (hopefully) helpful tips for sufferers:

  • Although it may seem difficult, it is important to discuss any mental issues with your GP. You won’t be wasting their time and they should never make you feel as though your problem is irrelevant.
  • Anti-depressant medication isn’t as scary as you think. More often than not it is a temporary measure that will help to relieve your symptoms, allowing you to get back on track and make any necessary changes within your life. Discuss the dose and any side-effects carefully with your doctor, and be sure to book review appointments at regular intervals. Also, be sure to take your medication if you do decide to go down that route — withdrawal symptoms can make you feel much worse.
  • Inform your place of work if you feel like your work performance is suffering because of your illness. They are not allowed to penalise you for having mental health issues.
  • Focus on your basic physical needs, even if you don’t feel able to do anything else. Aim to drink a couple of litres of water a day and eat at least one or two portions of fruit and veg.
  • Confide in someone. It’s not always easy to talk about these things, but it is helpful to have at least one person who you can talk to.
  • You shouldn’t feel guilty for being depressed. It is an illness that anyone can experience and it can be brought on by just about anything — sometimes the cause isn’t obvious at all.
  • Manage your energy wisely and don’t force yourself to be productive if you’re not feeling up to it. This Rookie article, “How To Structure Your Days If You’re Depressed”, is particularly useful.
  • Try to spend a little time on one of your hobbies every day, even just for five or ten minutes.
  • Spend time with your pets. This might sound trivial, but it can be extremely therapeutic. You can guarantee that your pets won’t judge you in any way and they can be real stress busters.
  • Go outside, even if it’s just a five-minute walk around the block. Fresh air and vitamin D can be very healing.
  • Try meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises to help you to relax.
  • Watching films can be remarkably helpful. Make yourself really comfortable, get a cup of tea and relax with your favourite film, even if it’s one you’ve seen a thousand times already. Instant escapism.

Some (hopefully) helpful tips for friends and family:

  • Make an effort to learn and recognise the symptoms of your loved one’s illness and understand that they will have off-days, even if they are on medication.
  • Don’t take it personally if they are especially quiet or unwilling to engage in conversation or activities.
  • Bring them water and healthy snacks if they seem a little shaky or lethargic.
  • Be there to listen if they feel like talking about any issues.
  • Try to gently encourage, but not strictly enforce, some of the activities mentioned above such as going for a walk outside or watching a film.
  • Offer to do simple chores for them, such as doing the washing up or having a quick tidy around, if they seem unable to do it themselves.
  • Know when your help isn’t enough. If their lives are in immediate danger, seek professional help.

Mind, a UK based mental health charity, has a brilliant website with some really invaluable information. Head over there if you would like to learn more about depression and mental health.

(Originally posted on alicetucker.co.uk)