woman covering her face

Supporting People with Signs of Depression or Mental Illness

It was Robin Williams back in August 2014. Then, just days apart in June 2018, it was Kate Spade, followed by Anthony Bourdain. The face of suicide could not have been more high-profiled with these celebrities—an Academy Award-winning actor-comedian, a Council of Fashion Designer of America awardee, and a famous chef, author, and TV personality.

All gone.

Self-inflicted hanging was the cause of death for all three. And the thread that runs common in these three individuals, as all reports indicated, is depression. An autopsy of Mr. Williams’s brain tissue revealed that he had diffuse Lewy body dementia (LBD), an illness that contributes to the state of depression.

Your mother passed away a couple of years ago, and she had dementia as well. That’s why you became a neurologist. Independent from your medical practice, you run a community center in Broomfield, where you provide services such as family counseling, information campaigns, and limited psychiatric and medical treatments to support people with dementia or mental illness and their families.

Here’s what they might learn when they walk into your center:

Mental Illness in America

Before you get diagnosed with pneumonia, people will notice changes in your physical appearance. You might lose weight or have bouts with cough or flu. Symptoms of physical diseases like pneumonia or even cancer are easily detected, and it can be hard to keep them hidden.

It’s the complete opposite when one is suffering from mental illness. The symptoms are not immediately visible, and so it becomes challenging for support systems to intervene and prevent a tragic ending for people who are sick.

More than 10.3 million adults have seriously considered taking their own life. Young adults remain to be one of the most vulnerable segments of people who have a mental illness.

friend comforting a sad person

Providing Support: Your Role

Once you determine that a friend or family member is showing signs of depression or other forms of mental illness, here are some of the things that you can do to provide support.

  1. Be vigilant and fine-tune your understanding of the symptoms. The symptoms differ for each individual. Some might demonstrate sadness or hopelessness. Others show anger, irritation, or frustration even for non-consequential matters. Sleeping disorders—whether too much or too little can be symptoms, too. Guilt or feeling unworthy is ubiquitous signs as well. You must learn how to track these subtle changes in personality or disposition.
  2. Acceptance. Taking care of a sick loved one can be physically, mentally, and emotionally tasking. You need to accept this and let yourself feel frustrated or irritated. Don’t suppress these feelings because it brings guilt. Find a way to purge these negative energies. You can maybe talk to a close friend and vent, or find a support group.
  3. Be an advocate for professional medical care. People with mental illness will not readily admit that they are sick or that they recognize any of the symptoms. Your job is to convince them to seek professional help as soon as possible. Be their emotional crutch as you navigate through the dynamics of denial, frustration, and acceptance.
  4. From yellow to red alerts. If you’re loved one casually mentions thoughts of suicide, the alert level just shifted from yellow to red. Intervene immediately. Talk to them and dial those hotline numbers that are published everywhere or 911.

As a support system, you also need to take care of yourself. Find time to recharge so that you can continue to care for your loved one.

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