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Recognizing depression in others can be difficult for several reasons. The first is that it presents in different forms depending on age, social standing and gender. It is also harder to see changes in someone you don’t know well. Below are some of the most common visible symptoms.
Depression shows up in younger people as withdrawal, irritation and inappropriate anger. In teens, it is sometimes assumed they are just being “hormonal” and the symptoms are a result of the chaos of adolescence. In fact, it can be difficult to tell. If you can get your teen to open up about what they are feeling “inside,” this will give you a chance to separate the sadness and isolation from the normal ups and downs of this age group. Importantly – how long does it last? Does there seem to be an activity they enjoy that snaps them out of it or are they always down?
In middle aged groups, the problem is with masking. As we grow into adulthood we learn to hide our feelings and can be very good at acting appropriately, even when we feel miserable inside. In men, anger is more common and withdrawal into some “escape” activity. Addictive behaviors can arise as the victim seeks to cure their own depression. In women, isolation and a feeling for separation from normal social support networks is common. In both men and women, simply offering to listen can break through the masks.
For the elderly, there are two problems. First, the physical symptoms like weight loss, sleeping pattern changes and confusion can be mistaken for the normal progression of age. The second difficulty is that many older people don’t think of depression as a disease. They may ignore symptoms or just “gut it out” without complaint.
Surveys and assessments are used by professionals to tip them off to the symptoms of depression. These are available online (one is here). If you can get someone to take one of these, they may be willing to share the results with you. If not, you can take one yourself to see what symptoms you have spotted in the other person.
These assessments aren’t diagnostic, but they go a long way toward understanding what’s going on.
Surprisingly, sometimes all it takes is a willingness to listen to get someone to open up about how they are feeling. You can broach the subject by mentioning anything you have noticed in any of these areas that include the classical symptoms of depression:
• Sleep pattern disturbances – have you noticed they are not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much?
• Sadness or anxiousness that doesn’t seem to have a ready explanation – “You seem to be down a lot lately, is there anything I can do?”
• Sudden loss or gain of weight
• Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly
• Inability to focus, make decisions or set priorities
• Inability to get enthused about anything, an unwillingness to engage socially, withdrawal
Most depression will show several of these patterns and the more severe the depression is, the more symptoms will appear.
If you believe someone is showing signs of depression, don’t keep silent. Bring the topic up with a story about when you or someone else went through similar circumstances. If you are rebuffed, wait some time and bring it up again. Sometimes, it is just a matter of being open to discussion that will put the depressed person on the path to getting depression treatment.
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