The biggest fallacy of any illness is the belief that it won’t occur to someone close to us. This belief often blinds us to early signs of diseases in our loved ones until its too late. Depression is one such disease. It begins insidiously and the changes are subtle. If the mind doesn’t know, the eye can’t see. Unless we know what signs to expect when a close one is depressed we can’t reach out and offer help.
Depression is a complex illness. Many a time, the person suffering is also unable to understand that something is wrong. They just continue to suffer the distress caused by the illness.
If you notice any of the below mentioned signs in someone you care about he/she may be suffering from depression.
1. Being withdrawn or standoffish
Depression makes one not want to interact socially and remain alone. If someone is cancelling meet-ups, responding less frequently to message etc. they could be depressed. However, they are often mistaken as being selfish, not interested in their friend’s lives or ‘anti-social’. This further alienates them.
2. Losing interest
Any activity which is a source of pleasure or relaxation no longer brings fulfilment. You may notice a friend missing guitar lessons which she loves or stopping playing cricket altogether. Daily chores become burdensome. You may realise that the house is messier than usual or that your friend isn’t being that particular about how his/her hair looks anymore.
3. Mood swings
Depression is an illness caused by changes in brain chemistry. These changes can cause changes in the mood which can sometimes be drastic. A usually humorous friend may be extra sensitive to an innocuous comment, someone who is generally calm may get irritable or even extremely angry over a minor provocation.
Depression is exhausting. Being excessively tired or feeling lethargic while doing routine tasks could be a sign of depression.
5. Sleep changes
An active person sleeping all day or someone is unable to sleep for even a couple of hours can both be signs of depression.
6. Increased alcohol or drug use
Sometimes alcohol and drugs are a way to self-medicate to help deal with the unpleasant emotions which depression unleashes. However, this is an unhealthy method of coping with its own physical and emotional complications. If a friend had suddenly started drinking a lot, he /she could be depressed. They’ll need help both with their depression as well as their alcohol and drug use.
7. Self-harm and suicide
This is the most serious. If someone close mentions wanting to kill themselves, starts giving away prized possessions, mentions hurting themselves or has written a suicide note it is a loud cry for help. This person is in need of urgent help as they are at risk of committing suicide. Be with them, let them know you’re there for them and help them reach a professional for further help.
Dr Yashasree Poudwal
Dept. of Psychiatry
K. J. Somaiya Hospital