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How to Support Virtually Someone with Depression

The pandemic has affected many of us, especially with regard to our mental health. Four out of 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of depression during the pandemic, an increase of one in 10 adults before COVID-19, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Given the statistics, you are likely to know someone who has been affected, and perhaps you have also been affected. Even with states withdrawing masking mandates and increasing vaccination rates, people with depression still face mental health problems and are likely to continue to face the pandemic. The positive side is that, since we are all more online, there are more ways to help each other: “Everyone, but mainly people with social anxiety – and there is a high correlation between depression and anxiety – now they are in the habit of being online “says Dr. Carol Landau, clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University who wrote a book on how to prevent depression and anxiety in college-going teenagers.

Given our even more frequent online behavior today, we are more likely to connect – and help – depressed loved ones through a screen. Although you can’t treat your loved one’s depression (and you’re probably not qualified for it anyway), Mashable talked to depression experts to find out how you can help support your loved one with depression at a distance.

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Know the definition and recognize the signs

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression, or major depressive disorder, is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think and act”. There are a multitude of symptoms and not everyone experiences them all.

Depression can cause people to withdraw from social situations, find it difficult to carry out their daily activities, or are reluctant to socialize completely (or in times of pandemic, reluctant to do or follow up with virtual hangout plans). Symptoms can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts, according to the Mayo Clinic. A diagnosis is based on a person who continually (or almost continuously) experiences five or more symptoms of depression, such as lethargy, a feeling of worthlessness, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, for at least two weeks.

It is important to note that while people may experience sadness or sadness over events such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, sadness and sadness are not the same as depression. However, virtual support can also help a loved one in these situations.

It can be a challenge to recognize depression in a loved one when you don’t see them in person on a regular basis. “I think there are limitations to what you can see virtually,” says Landau, who says the main symptom of depression in adults is sadness, but in teenagers it can be irritability. But there are things you can do, she adds: “In addition to your friend’s report, you may notice or ask about positive changes in self-care, sleep, eating and other symptoms of depression. You can tell if your friend is less physically anxious or agitated or lethargic and slow. “

Seek mental health resources together

When it comes to depression, sometimes the most difficult step is the initial one. For some people, this may mean researching therapists or outpatient programs to treat depression.

Your friend may want to find professional help, but his drive to do so may be lacking because depression can deplete people’s energy, says Natalie Dattilo, director of psychology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. If your friend asks for your help or is open to the idea, pick up the phone or FaceTime and search Google for mental health resources together.

“As a friend, partner or loved one, maybe you can take the first step with them … which they may be reluctant to do,” says Dattilo. You can also offer to take that first step on your own, if they don’t feel good, but make sure they agree and never go behind someone’s back and do it, because it may seem like a breach of trust, says Landau.

Dattilo sought out resources for its patients when they want to explore extra help beyond what Dattilo offers. But if a loved one doesn’t want your help or resists seeking professional help, don’t force it.

Reluctance is common, says Landau, because seeking psychological help is still seen as shameful or weak.

“A person has every right not to seek mental health treatment if he does not want to or is not ready for it. Sometimes, giving our loved one the time and space he needs can be the most useful and loving thing. to do “. says Dattilo.

Landau recommends the Psychology Today website as a resource for searching for qualified therapists. It also offers research options for psychiatrists, treatment centers and support groups. You can also offer to help sift through your friend’s network of service providers to make sure the therapist is covered by insurance.

Send care packages and virtual reminders of your love

Care packages can be an effective way to remind your loved ones that you are thinking about them and that they are important to you.

Even if your main means of communication is texts or video calls, you can send letters, self-care kits, baked goodies, photos of the good times you shared or funny objects or cards that align with the person’s sense of humor. If your friend is open to this, you can also talk about what you sent during calls or text messages – it’s a conversation starter and can help them feel good.

You can also show your love virtually. Send e-cards, create a playlist of your favorite songs, compile a slideshow of fun mutual memories, watch a movie online from a distance or make some popcorn and video chat together, suggests Dattilo.

All of these actions can help to remind your loved one that they are important, especially when depression sends messages like “I have no value”.

“[A care package] is a way of connecting and offering remote support, which can be more tolerable and more easily accepted than the pressure to socialize in person (or virtual),” says Dattilo.

Hanging out with mutual friends

Socializing can deplete someone with depression, but it can also elevate them.

If your friend wants to, try to have them join a virtual hangout with you and mutual friends or family, if applicable. The Houseparty video chat app, for example, offers fun games, like trivia and Heads Up, or you can use a standard Zoom or FaceTime.

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Do not do these sessions on your friend’s depression or even say that this is why you will be together, recommends Dattilo, who adds that if you did not gather a group of friends for a call from Zoom for the sole purpose of supporting a mutual friend with diabetes, then treat a depressed friend the same way.

“It may have the potential to alienate the person or draw more attention to [their depression] than they would like,” she says. Instead, go out because it’s fun and because you care about your friend.

Take care you too

You must have heard the saying “you can’t spill from an empty glass”. If you are giving everything to your loved one with depression, you cannot take care of him or yourself.

But there are a few tools to help you do both. Take advantage of technology like meditation, which can improve mental health, or exercise apps (physical activity can act as a buffer against depression) and invite your friend to join you. Can you say something as simple as “I’m going to do this, do you want to try with me?”

Dattilo recommends apps like the Moody mood tracker; the Sanvello therapy, training and self-care app; and the meditation apps Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace. She recommends these apps to her patients who are struggling with depression. While apps are not a substitute for formal mental health resources, they can complement any professional help your friend receives.

Don’t take it personally if your friend doesn’t want to come in – he may not have the energy to do it – or if he looks irritated, because irritability is a symptom of depression, says Landau.

If you have contacted your friend a few times and are not concerned about the possibility of him being hurt, you can send a text message “Are you okay?”

“Many times a person can write back: ‘Yes, but I don’t feel like talking’,” says Landau. If you are concerned about the possibility of your friend getting hurt, there are resources you can connect with listed below.

“You take care of yourself … managing your own frustrations, your own disappointments and your own anxieties about how they are doing,” says Dattilo. “But at the end of the day, you can also demonstrate and model what you would like them to do.” This may include using a meditation app and consulting a therapist.

Watch for warning signs

Your loved one may be dealing with depression in a healthy way, for example, talking to a mental health professional regularly or mentioning events or activities they are eager to do. But it is important to be aware of the red flags that may indicate that the depression has worsened or that they are thinking about attempting suicide.

Some of these warning signs may include an increase in alcohol or drug use (which may or may not be uncommon), self-harm, conversations that express a desire to die, donate your belongings or say things like “Thank you, you have been a friend very good. “

It may be more difficult to see these signals virtually. Dattilo suggests that if your loved one is late for a scheduled phone call or is completely lost, this could be a warning sign. If they get drunk during your call, get too hung over or say they are drinking more, this may sound the alarm. If you are worried, you can ask nicely, “You don’t seem to be feeling well. Are you okay?” says Dattilo.

You can offer to call a hotline or text hotline together. If you are concerned about their safety, ask if they think they need to go to the hospital. If he has a close friend or relative in the area, offer to call him to accompany his loved one to the hospital.

Sometimes, you may need to go ahead and connect your loved one with emergency resources, even if he says he doesn’t want help. If you’re worried that they have a gun at home and say things like “I don’t want to be here anymore” or “people will be better off without me” or “it will never be better, what’s the point of living?” Or they have one history of attempted suicide or self-harm, it is worthwhile to check in a family member or loved one, says Dattilo. Calling 911 is also an option.

Depression is a disconnect disorder and makes people forget that there are people who love and care about them, says Landau. Your virtual support can help remind them that this is not true and that you are by their side if things get worse.

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