MYTH: People can just "tough out" depression and get better on their own.
FACT: Clinical depression is an illness characterized by clear diagnostic criteria – sad mood or anhedonia for two weeks or longer and then 5 or more symptoms ranging from loss of appetite to sleep disturbance to feelings of worthlessness.
Sadly, we still view this as something that a person can "control" – and they often get feedback like "Get over it,” “Cheer up," "Toughen up," or "Man up." A person with depression often already feels ineffectual; hearing this can often just push them deeper into the shadows and less willing or able to seek help.
Can you imagine if someone just got a diagnosis of cancer, or MS, or diabetes and were told to "Get over it”?
The research is clear that untreated depression can lead to significant worsening of symptoms, greater occupational and social impairment, and poorer treatment outcomes. The stigma a person feels when they are told they should "Just get over it" may hamper them from seeking therapy. Depression is a very real condition, and while therapy is hard work for the client, it is not just about getting over it, but often taking medications, engaging in the work of therapy, and being prepared for future symptomatology.
A great place to start is with your regular doctor who may be able to start meds or provide referrals to mental health services. Therapy should be delivered by a licensed mental health practitioner – a psychologist, licensed master's level therapist (e.g. an MFT), social worker or psychiatrist. Some people may find it useful to turn to a religious leader such as a pastor, priest or imam and ideally should consult with someone who has some background in mental health. HMOs will provide mental health services as part of their coordinated care. Finally, low cost options can often be found at hospital outpatient training clinics, university training clinics, state hospital outpatient clinics, and local social service agencies. It is critical that you feel comfortable with whomever you choose; it is perfectly fine to keep going and seeking second opinions until you feel comfortable.
If you want to approach a family member who is struggling with depression, the key is to be empathic and supportive. Sometimes it just helps them to know that someone is witnessing their struggle. Keep in mind that sometimes depression can result in a person being more irritable than usual; take a moment to consider whether this is a change from his or her norm and consider depression as a possibility. Consider your audience when offering up help – older adults may not feel as comfortable with seeking "therapy" and a good place for them to start may be their regular physician. Reassure them that help will actually "help" and allow them to move forward. Stress that you will be there for them as they move forward through this process.