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Helping a friend who's depressed

New research shows that emotional support is key to recovery. Here_s how to show you care.

Beth Howard

Provided by HealthMonitor

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Julie Gallegos, 45, found a powerful antidote to depression'the support of friends and family. After the deaths of her mother, sister and niece over a 15-month period, family and friends helped her cope. One friend invited her for a walk every morning; another cooked her favorite meals. Family members attended Mass or read scripture with her.

Turns out, the Salt Lake City business owner had the right idea. "Without the support of family members and close friends, depression rarely gets better," says Michael Brodsky, MD, a psychiatrist in Pacific Palisades, CA. Indeed, researchers from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University found that in addition to medical treatment, patients who recovered from depression were more likely to have received high levels of emotional support from family and friends.

How can you help a depressed loved one? Try these strategies:
" Know the symptoms. Friends and family members may be more likely to notice signs of depression than the sufferer, who may be in a fog of fatigue or confusion. Symptoms include a low energy level; weight loss or gain; trouble sleeping; feelings of worthlessness, sadness or guilt; and a loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable.
" Show your concern. Let your friend or family member know that you care and are worried about her emotional health. "Simply asking, "Are you depressed?" can help determine whether a person needs help," says Dr. Brodsky. Offer to make an appointment with a healthcare provider and accompany your loved one to the visit.
" Encourage healthy behaviors. Urge your loved one to exercise daily, which has been shown to improve mood.
" Use the right words. It's fine to correct perceptions your loved one might express, such as, "I am a failure." For instance, you can say something like, "You are a worthwhile person, and you mean a lot to me." But avoid judging their feelings. "Don't say, "There's no reason for you to be depressed," " says T. Byram Karasu, MD, chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
" Just be there. It's tempting to try to talk a loved one out of his or her feelings of sadness and despair, but it's more important to show your support. Just being present sends the message that you care.
" Be alert to worsening symptoms. "If the depressed person is sleeping longer or continues to lose weight for more than three weeks, he or she may need to be hospitalized," says Dr. Karasu. Watch for self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol or accumulating a large number of tranquilizers or other drugs that could be used in a suicide attempt. "Don't be afraid to ask a person if he or she is considering suicide," he adds. "It will not push him or her over the edge, as many people think." If there's an imminent threat to a person's life, call 911.
Anxiety Confusion Depression Disoriented Guilt Insomnia Mental Status Change Suicidal Thoughts Suicide Thoughts of Suicide Weight Loss Fatigue Lose Weight Exercise More Depression

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