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Locked in a dark room. A constant heaviness in your chest. Empty inside. Feeling only half alive. Being dragged into darkness. Drifting through life like a ghost. These are just a few of the ways that people describe the experience of major depression.

From the outside, a loved one’s depression may seem like laziness, irritability or just bad behaviour. But in reality, clinical depression (also called major depressive disorder), is a common and serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. Yet, depression is also very treatable. That is why it’s important to recognize the signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, and know what to do and when it’s time to get help.

Early signs of depression

The first thing to understand about depression is that it’s not the same thing as grieving over a loss, or feeling the blues after a personal or professional setback. Those situations are normal parts of life, and we all experience them. They are painful, but in most cases, they get better over time as our emotional wounds heal. Depression isn’t a wound—it’s an illness.

Early signs of depression can be wide-ranging. They include a sudden shift in a person’s behaviour, energy, appetite or a loss of interest in or motivation to do normal activities. Sadness may be part of it, but it’s more common for people to report a feeling of numbness, deep disconnection or a feeling of being profoundly alone. And the key signal that you’re experiencing an episode of depression is that these feelings and behaviours continue over time, and start to interfere with daily life.

What do you do if you might have depression?

If you’re feeling some of these symptoms, the first thing is to understand that it’s not your fault. You’re not lazy or weak. It’s not a moral failing. As I said, depression is an illness—it just happens to be one that begins in the brain, rather than in the body.

With that in mind, there are some steps you can take to move away from this illness. The first is doing something to shift your situation, even just a little, in a more positive direction. For example, if you’re lying in bed, and can’t get up, move to the couch. It may not sound like much, but recovering from a mental illness of this type often takes a series of small steps.

Also, have some compassion for how you’re feeling, and be kind to yourself. It’s a common mistake to try and do too much. And then when people can’t meet those goals, they berate themselves for it. Along the same line, understand that depression also comes with physical symptoms (common ones include fatigue or unexplained aches and pains). These are very real, and it takes time to recover.

Finally, if your symptoms linger and your daily life isn’t getting better, it may be time to talk to a doctor or therapist. Either professional is a good first step—it just depends on who you’re most comfortable with. Studies show that the best outcomes for major depression come from a combination of pharmacology and therapy, and practitioners will often collaborate to create the best recovery plan for you.

What to do if a loved one might have depression?

The points above all apply if you’re concerned about a friend, spouse, child, sibling, parent or other loved one. It’s important to show compassion for what someone with depression is going through, and to validate their feelings. They may fear that you’re judging them, so make it clear that you understand they’re in the grip of a serious illness. Be compassionate and kind.

We often live in a complex web of responsibilities, and when a loved one is ill—with a mental or physical issue—it affects everyone in the house. There may be an increased burden on you as the healthy member. If that’s the case, try to find some support, so you can maintain compassion for your depressed loved one, and aid in their recovery.

And again, if signs of depression persists, it’s important to find help for your loved one. If they resist, take a process of gentle, consistent  encouragement to get them into some kind of treatment. It may not be easy, but remember—depression is very treatable. It’s hard to see a path when you’re lost in the woods, but with time and treatment most people fully recover, and go on to live hopeful and fulfilling lives.

Your Therapy is a safe, welcoming, counselling therapy practice that offers confidential, mental health assessment and treatment in the Greater Toronto Area. Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about mental wellness depression therapy in Toronto.

Anu Chahauver is the Director & Social Worker at Your Therapy, providing Individual, Couple and Family Therapy.

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