Depression. Extreme fatigue. Overwhelming sadness. Loss of appetite. Apathy about everyday life. Bouts of unexplained crying. In some cases depression can even lead to thoughts of suicide. Depression does not discriminate based on age, education or socioeconomic standing and affects everyone from the person suffering with depression to her spouse and her children.
Often people will use the word “depressed” when they’ve had a low feeling or maybe feel saddened by a turn of events. However, this is not the same as clinical depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of depression continue for weeks, months or even years. For some people, depression has a genetic link, while other families have never experienced it. Whether it is genetic or not, depression is generally triggered by something, such as an event–a death, divorce or loss of a job–or something physiological, such as major illnesses or childbirth.
Types of Depression
Types of depression include major depressive disorder, which interferes with the sufferer’s everyday life; psychotic depression, which includes hallucinations or a break from reality; postpartum depression, which is a depression that begins within the first weeks following childbirth; and seasonal affective disorder, which is a depression that occurs during the winter months, when the lack of sunlight affects the chemical balance within the brain. People with manic-depressive illness (also known as bipolar disorder) have shifts in moods from periods of high energy (manic) to periods of extremely low energy and depression (depressive).
The Depressed Person
The person with depression may have difficulty waking up and will spend much of the day sleeping. He might not be interested in everyday activities, making it appear that he doesn’t care, when in reality he simply doesn’t have the energy to care. Depressed people have problems focusing on work or interacting with other people, even their family. The depressed person might realize that something is wrong but feel as if he doesn’t have the ability to do anything about it.
Depression affects both marriage partners. The spouse of a depressed person often has to pick up the slack in housework, childcare or even earning a living, all the while being concerned for her partner. If the depression lingers and nothing is done, this can become physically and mentally draining for both of them. Children also suffer when a parent is depressed. They often have to fend for themselves or become the caregiver for their depressed parent. They are even at risk of mental issues themselves. In a report presented to NIMH, Dr. Myrna M. Weissman stated, “Many studies have shown that women in their child-bearing years are at the highest risk for depression and that the children of depressed mothers have more psychiatric disorders than children of non-depressed mothers.”
Depression can affect friendships, especially if the friend is unaware of the problem. Depressed people tend to withdraw from society; they might not answer phone calls or emails from friends or turn down invitations to parties and evenings out. When friends do spend time with the depressed person, they might feel a responsibility to ‘cheer them up’ and struggle with frustration when it doesn’t work. After a while, the depression can cause friends to reduce their attempts for interaction with the depressed person.
Depression’s effect extends beyond the immediate family, including to the workplace.Depending upon the type and severity of depression, the effects of the depression can range from difficulty getting along with co-workers to completely being unable to work. The fatigue experienced by the depressed person can cause increased absences and affect the quality and quantity of completed work. In the case of manic-depressive disorder, if the person is in the high-energy manic phase, her work output increases substantially and then drops significantly during the low-energy phase. If an employer is unaware of the condition, it might appear that the person is slacking off. Even if an employer is aware of the problem, depression can result in job loss.
One of the first steps to helping a depressed person is understanding the condition. He cannot just “get over it” or “cheer up.” Families can set a lower standard of housekeeping, run some of the person’s errands and fix simpler meals; this helps reduce the guilt depressed people often feel. Friends can let the depressed person know that they can spend time together where the expectations are not high; perhaps sharing a cup of tea or listening to music. Depending upon the nature of the job, the workplace creates a larger challenge; companies often don’t have the flexibility needed for lower work results. At the very least, the employer needs to be aware of the depression. For the depressed person, she must come to a point where she wants to get help. This should start with her medical doctor, who is able to help determine whether the depression is physiologically based or whether the individual, the couple or the family needs to seek counseling.