Caring for the black dog (aka depression)

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“The black dog” aka depression

Depression affects many people around the world regardless of gender, age, socio-economic status, race. Winston Churchill referred to his periods of depression as “the black dog.” Here is what you need to know:

Signs of and treatment for depression

As depicted in this video depression is characterized by negative thoughts, hopelessness, and sadness. A person may experience a change in appetite and sleep, and decreased concentration and libido. A person overcome with depression may even consider or attempt to commit suicide.
There is no single way that works for everybody, but research has shown that a number of factors can be beneficial in the alleviation of the symptoms of depression.

  1. Medication: there is a broad range of medication available and a psychiatrist or GP can assist in finding the right drug for the individual.
  2. Psychotherapy: CBT provides an opportunity to evaluate and modify thought patterns and behavior that maintains the experience of depression.
  3. Exercise: although it is extremely hard work for a depressed person to engage in exercise, research shows that it can be as effective as medication in symptom reduction.
  4. Social support: sharing the honest experiences of depression with a caring person is a major protective factor in depression.

Caring for a loved one with depression

A person in crisis is sending out an SOS: they are scared and emotionally overwhelmed, they are facing overwhelming circumstances; and they have strengths (which they have probably forgotten about). Here are things that you can do:

  1. Take initiative to make contact (especially if they are withdrawn, they could appreciate a regular phone call or a DVD night together) so that they feel less lonely.
  2. Seek to understand what they are going through: Do not assume that you know why they are hurting. Ask gentle, non-judgmental questions.
  3. React with compassion when they share their stories. Assure them that you are there to listen and will try to not argue or change their minds.
  4. Shift focus from the sources of their pain to resources for treatment. Be sure to encourage and support them to seek help (e.g. offer to take care of the children or give them a lift to their appointment).
  5. Remain available even after your loved one started or completed professional treatment. Relapse is common and often devastating (“That was my last resort and it didn’t work, so it really is hopeless and I might as well die”).

Let’s talk about suicide

Take suicide threats seriously. Talking about suicide does not make a person more likely to do it. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, or ask about it. You may want to choose a tiered approach to your support:

Phase 1: Try to convince your loved one to seek mental health care available from:

  • Their GP
  • A psychologist
  • A psychiatrist
  • Lifeline (suicide hotline)

Phase 2: If they disclose their suicide plan, you can make dangerous items inaccessible (e.g. razor blades, pills, etc.). This could be done by removal or by supervision.

Phase 3: As a last resort, you can take your loved one to the nearest emergency room. If you are also in danger, contact the police (10111) who can assist you.

Depression is hard for the individual, but also their loved ones. As a loved one be sure to take care of yourself too. Build a network of support around your loved one: it is impossible for you to be available 24/7. Create a system where there are also others he/she can rely on should you be physically or emotionally unavailable.