A depressive disorder is a "whole-body" illness, involving your entire body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.
Depressive disorders come in different forms, just as do many other illnesses. Some types of depression run in families, indication that a biological vulnerability can be inherited.
And even though depression may occur generation after generation in some families, it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression. According to researchers, certain depressive disorders are often associated with having too little or too much of certain neurochemicals.
Psychological makeup also plays a role in vulnerability to depression. People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who are readily overwhelmed by stress are prone to depression.
Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These disabling episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.
Family and friends are important when it comes to dealing with depression. The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may involve encouraging the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate (several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether the depressed person is taking medication.
Another important thing is to offer the depressed person emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Always report them to the depressed person's therapist.
Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or other activities. Don't push the depressed person to undertake too much too soon. The depressed person needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Do not accuse the depressed person of faking illness or of laziness, or expect him or her "to snap out of it." Eventually, with treatment, most depressed people do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring the depressed person that, with time and help, he or she will feel better.
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