Do you know someone who is coping with anxiety and depression? Are you watching a loved one, close friend or even a work colleague struggling to cope and you’re unsure how you can help them? Has a family member recently changed and you’re worried they may be depressed or anxious? There are lots of simple yet effective ways you can offer support and help to a loved one who is currently experiencing anxiety and depression.
Signs of anxiety and depression
Most of us have experienced brief and transient periods of feeling blue, down, nervous, worried and stressed, or a feeling that we’re not coping. But these emotions and feelings pass within a few hours or days and normal life resumes. When these feelings become an ongoing problem and start affecting day to day life, it’s time to get help. Sometimes people battling with anxiety and depression don’t realise how much it’s affecting their quality of life and relationships with the people they love. Or, they may be too caught up in struggling with life to seek out help. Unfortunately, some people still believe that there is a stigma associated with depression and anxiety and are reluctant to ask for help as a result.
Anxiety is the physical response to fear, either a real fear about losing a job or a loved one, or a perceived fear. Signs that someone you care for may be suffering from anxiety include:
- Irritability and an inability to relax.
- They have difficulty concentrating.
- They talk about experiencing heart palpitations, increased sweating, restlessness, dizziness or feeling like something bad is going to happen (often described as an impending sense of doom).
- They complain of sleeping problems, especially waking early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.
Depression is generally described as a loss of pleasure or interest in life activities, usually accompanied by feelings of being sad, unhappy or overwhelmed. Clinical depression is when these feelings continue without a break for at least two weeks. Signs that a friend or loved one is experiencing depression can include:
- They stop wanting to go out and cancel arranged plans, often at the last minute.
- They are behind with school work, study or work when this is not normal for them.
- They become withdrawn from their friends and family and may stop responding to text messages, emails and phone calls.
- They start relying on alcohol or other drugs, including prescription or over the counter medications that have a sedative effect in order to relax.
- They’re unable to concentrate at work or day to day tasks such as driving.
- They complain regularly of physical symptoms such as: feeling tired all the time, headaches and muscle pains, not feeling hungry, a sick or churning feeling in their stomach, sleep problems and being run down all the time.
- They may use phrases such as: ‘I’m a failure’, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m worthless’, ‘life isn’t worth living’, ‘the world or people would be better off without me’, ‘it’s all my fault’, or ‘why does nothing good ever happen to me?’
How to talk to someone coping with anxiety and depression
Talking with someone who is coping with anxiety and depression can feel awkward or difficult. What if you say the wrong thing and make them feel worse? How do you talk with them about how they’re feeling? It can be tempting to just ignore the issue or avoid talking to them altogether, especially if they appear to have become negative and irritable.
You don’t have to approach them with a pre-rehearsed speech that feels contrived and uncomfortable. Start by becoming an active listener and paying attention to what they’re saying so they feel supported. Beyond Blue, an organisation dedicated to providing information about anxiety, depression and suicide to the Australian community, recommends the following when talking with someone who has anxiety or depression:
- Be aware of your body language, sit comfortably and maintain eye contact.
- Save any suggestions or advice for another conversation and instead let them discuss their concerns and use neutral comments such as “I can see how that would upset you” or “I can understand why you felt like that”.
- Use open ended questions that require more than just a yes or no answer, for example “can you tell me about…”, or, “how do you feel about….”.
Things to avoid when someone has depression or anxiety
It can be difficult and challenging when someone you love or care about is finding it hard to cope with depression and anxiety. There are just a few important things to remember to avoid when interacting with them:
- Don’t avoid them or ignore the problem hoping it will go away.
- Don’t try to cheer them up with comments like “just relax”, “calm down”, “buck up”, or, “you just need to focus on the positives”.
- Don’t assume that they don’t need professional help. Encourage them to speak with their doctor who can refer them to the most appropriate health professional to receive the most effective and evidence based treatment.
- Don’t encourage or support them in using drugs or alcohol to help feel better.
- Avoid burning out by looking after yourself. You may also need support if you’re caring for an immediate family member or even a close friend with depression or anxiety.
Tips to help your loved ones cope better with depression and anxiety
Thankfully there’s a lot that you can do to help those you care about who may be suffering from depression and anxiety. Start with making time to listen to them so they feel supported and heard. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and let them know that you’re there without judgement.
Help them to find some relevant info about depression and anxiety, Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute are both great places to start looking.
Encourage them to look after themselves and assist them to help put into place some healthy lifestyle choices that include focusing on nutritious foods, plenty of sleep and exercise. Maybe organise to go walking with them a few times a week.
Recommend that they make an appointment to speak with their doctor, who can support them with suitable medication or referral to an appropriate counsellor or psychologist. Offer to drive them to their appointment if they’re feeling overwhelmed, otherwise remember to check in with them about how their appointment went with their doctor.
If you’re caring for someone you love who is finding it difficult coping with depression and anxiety and you’re feeling overwhelmed and need help, make an appointment to speak with a doctor who is experienced, understanding and up to date on the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression.
Need further help or advice about caring for someone who is coping with depression and anxiety? Contact the team at Algester Medical today to book a caring, confidential discussion.