How to spot the signs of depression in others (and yourself)

An expert guide on what to look for and how to help

September 10 2020

Every year on September 10 we're reminded by both R U OK? and World Suicide Prevention Day to check in on our friends, families and ourselves. 

It’s safe to say 2020 hasn’t been the smoothest of rides, with many changes in lifestyle resulting in mental changes too. But while the numbers of cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and released across the country daily, the number of suicides and calls to helplines have been somewhat overshadowed.

It’s ok not to be ok, and there’s a chance someone close to you may not be coping well or you yourself aren't sailing through.

BEAUTYcrew spoke to Clinical Psychologist, Cliff Battley, to gain his expert advice on depression and what some of the signs are that we can be looking out for. Because even if we can’t be face-to-face right now, there are other ways to connect, listen and help.

What are some signs of depression we should look out for in friends?

Depression is often associated with sadness, and while this isn’t a wrong distinction, Battley says its unexplained sadness that’s a key sign to look out for.

“If you start to notice that your loved one has been consistently down or withdrawn for a noticeable period of time then it might be time to start checking up on them more often,” he says. “You should also look out for things like sudden weight gain or weight loss, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, sleeping difficulties, headaches, noticeably lowered self-esteem or withdrawing from their regular social activity.”

Another element to consider is the other relationships in their lives. “If you notice that their relationships are constantly falling apart and are unstable then this too could be a sign that they are not coping,” Battley tells us.

In addition, this may also mean that their usual support network is now absent and they are lacking confidants to turn to.

Here are some things that your friend might say or think about themselves when depressed:

  I’m useless

  I’m to blame for everything

  I’m hopeless

  I’m helpless

  I’m overwhelmed

  I’m alone

  I’m sad

  I’m unlovable

  I’m unemployable

  I’m a waste of other’s time and/ or energy

  I’m a waste of space

  I’m a burden on everyone

What are some signs of depression we can look out for in ourselves?

The signs of depression in oneself are the same as those around you, however, it’s much harder to recognise and self-diagnose.

“When experiencing clinical depression, symptoms present for two weeks or more,” says Battley. “You might start noticing a lack of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, a loss of self-worth and self-confidence, increased amount of crying and a sense of feeling hopeless and or helpless.”

He adds that another sign can be what your friends and family around you are commenting on. Examples like ‘you don’t seem like yourself lately’ or having them ask ‘is everything ok?’.

If any of these signs relate to you, then Battley recommends seeking the help of loved ones or a professional.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about depression?

There are many misconceptions surrounding depression but the biggest, according to Battley, is that many people think you can just simply ‘snap out of it’. But it’s definitely not the case.

“Depression is not just something you can decide not to experience,” he explains. “People often think that they are immune to depression, whilst others believe depression is ‘contagious’, both very untrue and these beliefs contribute to the stigma surrounding depression.”

He says that many people also believe that they can spot depression and that they would know if someone was depressed, when usually, it is quite the opposite.

“Depressed people will often put on a brave face because they might fear being a burden or that they will let others down, that is why knowing what to look out for is so important.”

How can we check in on our friends when we can’t see them right now?

With restrictions still in place across Australia, our usual coffee catch-ups and dinners may be less frequent, but Battley encourages other forms of connection.

Video calls and telephone calls are a great way to check in on your friends when you can’t visit them, even send them a text message or send them a funny meme,” he tells BEAUTYcrew.

“Just let them know that you are there for them and are ready to listen whenever they need you. It is also important to communicate with their housemates, relatives and others in your circle, especially so if you are unable to reach them.”

How can we help our friends who are in lockdown in Melbourne?

With Melbourne currently under tougher lockdown laws than the other states, it can be hard to know what to say or do if you’re on the outside.

Battley says to refrain from giving unsolicited advice in particular, saying things like “cheer up, just think positive thoughts,” can be triggering.

Instead, “be someone that they can rely on and someone that will listen to them for as long as they need.”

“Ask them if they want to talk about things and respect their decision if they chose not to,” he says. “Let them know that what they are feeling is both normal and acceptable and remind them of all the times that they have overcome tough challenges.”

Reassurance and knowing they are loved and cared for is sometimes all it takes. Battley says it’s also a good idea to urge them to talk to a professional such as their GP, a counsellor or psychologist.

“And remind them that Lifeline is a free and confidential support service staffed by understanding professionals who will offer unconditional positive support, guidance and instant access to emergency care,” he says.

The biggest takeaway of all? Maintain regular contact with the friends you are concerned about and be patient.

Main image credit: @paige_previvor

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