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Getting Help for Depression

It is not uncommon for people to wonder just when it is necessary to seek help for depression. Sometimes we hear people casually say, "I'm depressed," when they have had a bad day at work or a fight with their spouse. Typically, these kinds of feelings pass or lessen within a short period of time. In cases such as these, we are not really "depressed," but we experience normal and temporary feelings of sadness, frustration, or stress. These normal feelings are different than the more extreme and pervasive feelings associated with clinical depression. However, if depressive symptoms persist for a period of two weeks or more, or they are particularly distressing, then it is probably time to consult a mental health professional or a physician.

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If you have any doubts or questions about seeking help for depression, it is better to be on the safe side and go ahead and speak with a professional. Left untreated, depression can continue for weeks, months, or years. Over time it can become worse and may be more difficult to treat successfully. Untreated depression can also increase a person's risk of suicide. Up to 15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.

The following individuals or organizations can often provide treatment services and/or make referrals for service

  • Family doctors and other physicians
  • Mental health professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors
  • Your insurance provider
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • Hospital emergency rooms in times of crisis
  • University- or medical school-affiliated programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family service/social agencies
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies

The Yellow Pages can provide additional phone numbers and addresses under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," or "physicians."

If you are unsure whether you should seek help for depression, it is best to go ahead and consult with your family doctor or a mental health professional. Over time, untreated depression can become worse and more difficult to treat.

Helping Yourself When You Are Depressed

Depressive disorders make one feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings make some people feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and typically do not accurately reflect the situation. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime:

  • Set realistic goals and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.
  • Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.
  • Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive.
  • Participate in activities that may make you feel better.
  • Mild exercise, going to a movie, a ballgame, or participating in religious, social, or other activities may help.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time.
  • It is advisable to postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted. Before deciding to make a significant transition--change jobs, get married or divorced--discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • People rarely "snap out of" a depression. But they can feel a little better day by day.
  • Remember, positive thinking will replace the negative thinking that is part of the depression and will disappear as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Let your family and friends help you.

   source: National Institute of Health Publication No. NIH-99-3561

Helping Someone Else Who Might Be Depressed

The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get an 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. The depressed person should be encouraged to obey the doctor's orders about the use of alcoholic products while on medication.

The second most important thing is to offer 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. 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 some activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not 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.

   source: National Institute of Health Publication No. NIH-99-3561



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