By Michael Wolfe, MD

Depression can be a scary word for people. Many people struggle with seeing the signs of depression in someone they care about because they may be fearful or unsure of what to do next. As a psychiatrist, I know how important it is to recognize these signs and symptoms of depression early so that treatment can be started if it’s needed. We all feel sad from time to time, but depression is when those feelings of sadness persist and start to get in the way of life (enjoying things, friendships, relationships, work). Some people may identify a cause of feeling “down” such as:

  • Grief.
  • Loss.
  • Relationship changes.
  • Losing friends.
  • Losing jobs.
  • Increased stress.
  • New pressures.
  • Getting used to a new workplace.
  • Starting a new school.

Others may not have gone through any particular change.

A person may be depressed if they are having feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, and/or shame. In younger people, particularly, they may talk about being more irritable, angry or having a “short fuse.” A person may not have the energy to do things and feel consistently tired, either lose his/her appetite or begin to overeat or sleep too much or too little. She/he may start to “change” including not doing things she/he used to enjoy, avoiding friends and family, and/or avoiding responsibilities.

Some people may try more drastic ways to feel better, such as drinking more, using drugs (“weed”/marijuana, cocaine, opiates, heroin, pills, etc.), or seeking out new relationships or sex with people. Some people may hurt/harm themselves (such as cutting their skin) to manage the emotional pain. At times people may even start to think or talk about wanting to die or committing suicide.

The most important thing to do if someone you care about is feeling this way is to reach out and talk to her/him. Let the person know you care and you are worried. Asking about depression or even suicide won’t make it worse. Seek assistance and encourage your friend or family member to speak with his or her primary care doctor for guidance on how to treat depression. You may also recommend speaking directly to a therapist or counselor. Look for providers (LMHC, LICSW, Ph.D., PsyD, or MDs) online in publications like this one, or call the number on the back of your medical insurance card for instructions on how to find local mental health providers.