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Is it sadness or depression?

Reduce the stigma by supporting family and friends

Depression is an illness affecting about 16 million people in the U.S. each year. While effective treatments are available, unfortunately, the stigma of being seen as weak, inadequate or broken prevents many from seeking care. Family and friends of those experiencing depression can reduce that stigma with education and support as loved ones seek treatment.

Depression, the illness, differs from sadness that is a normal part of life. It is biologically based and mediated by neurotransmitters including serotonin and stress hormones like cortisol. Depression can drain the enjoyment out of life and disturb sleep, appetite, energy, concentration and functioning. The person may feel that life does not seem worth living and consider suicide.

When someone is depressed, listen and be respectful. It’s important not to be dismissive of his or her concerns. Avoid using phrases like “get over it” or “what do you have to be depressed about?” Approach depression the same as you would if the person had another illness. 

Be supportive if the depressed person seeks treatment by being encouraging, positive and interested. It’s important to respect privacy, but you can express a willingness to help if needed—run errands or provide transportation. Optimizing sleep schedules, good nutrition and regular exercise are important as well. Being respectful of time needed for appointments, supporting healthy eating habits and joining a loved one at the gym or on a walk are other ways to support their mental health.

By reducing the stigma of being diagnosed with depression and supporting those seeking treatment, you can help your friend or family member lead a healthy, happy life.

Dr. Teresa Gevedon is an associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Kentucky Department of Psychiatry. 

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