According to a 2004 Rand Corporation report, depression results in more absenteeism than almost any other physical disorder and costs employers more than US$51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity.
If you want to help somebody suffering from depression or whom you suspect is depressed, following are the three simple things you can do.
Understand the perspective and the situation of the person.
Help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis.
Get appropriate treatment for him or her.
Understanding the situation in regard to the possibly depressed person.
Remember that depression is a complex “illness”, and not something just in the mind. So, never ridicule the concerned person of faking an illness or lethargy. Do not expect or tell the person to just “snap out of it.” Most people will get a great deal of sympathy and attention if they have broken an arm or a leg, because the problem is so obvious and visible. The pain and suffering of anxiety and depression are no less real because we cannot see them, in fact they can be greater because we can forget they are there.
Tell the person that you understand and with appropriate diagnosis and treatment, he or she will get better for sure. Also tell the person not to think of himself or herself as inferior to anybody. Keep reassuring the person that he or she will be cured. Exude hope, confidence and optimism and promote treatment.
Offer emotional support to the depressed person. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to the depressed person's therapist or the doctor immediately.
Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in some activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not push the depressed person to undertake too much too soon. The depressed person needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Understand that you may find the experience physically and emotionally draining, trying, distressing, maddening and downright exhausting at times. This is obviously more intense for those who live in close proximity with the person who is ill, rather than those who have frequent but less day-to-day contact. On the other hand, the sense of delight, sheer relief and pleasure that comes from watching the definite signs of recovery take place can more than compensate for the negative experiences of supporting someone who is severely depressed.
A lot of characteristics of a depressed person's behavior are such which repel people from them. In fact, although being alone is something that is not consciously desired by the depressed person, the sad reality is that he or she may end up acting in such a way that friends and relatives keep their emotional and physical distance from him or her. Once you understand this basic dilemma, it may make it possible for us to see that a depressed person may be crying out for company and attention, even when they are behaving in what is an apparently anti-social way. In such a situation, it can be helpful not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the alienating behavior, but to try to stand back for a moment and try to communicate at a deeper level with the person who is depressed by showing as much warmth and understanding as you can. It is common for those who are depressed to feel deeply unlovable and unloved: if you can respond in a genuinely compassionate and non-judgmental way it provides the depressed person with an opportunity to respond in a positive way.
Any suggestion that the depressed person is contemplating suicide requires professional support and input. Under no circumstances should this responsibility be shouldered alone by whoever is supporting a severely depressed and/or anxious person.
Diagnosis of the exact situation and problem
If you feel that a close friend or relative may be suffering from undiagnosed depression, make sure that he or she sees a doctor in order to ask for help. This can be a particular problem for men, who may feel instinctively uncomfortable about asking for help and advice if they feel depressed, since they may feel that this is partly an admission of weakness. This male fear of vulnerability is thought to be part of the reason why far more women than men are diagnosed as suffering from depression, since women on the whole are thought to be more comfortable with acknowledging problems of a non-physical nature. Since there are so many avenues of support open to anyone suffering from depression, it is very sad if these positive opportunities for treatment are missed due to avoiding asking for appropriate help when necessary. If someone is in too passive a state to go out and see their doctor, arrange for the doctor to come and see them. This may be especially appropriate if the person who is depressed is elderly or suffering from limited mobility.
If the person who is depressed is living alone, keep in touch regularly by a combination of visits and telephone calls. Preparing the occasional meal or giving help with household chores can be a lifesaver to someone who is going through an especially down phase, since at times like these it can take what seems a superhuman effort to accomplish even the most basic of tasks.
Make sure, as far as possible, that the depressed person takes frequent exercise. This need be nothing more ambitious than taking a regular walk each day, or having a swim at a nearby pool. Since it is natural for someone who is depressed to become very introspective and disinclined to take the initiative to go out, even when it may be very necessary, suggest going out for a coffee, a brief shopping trip, or for a drive into the country for a change of scene.
Try to counter negative statements with appropriate positive perspectives. Although this may not always be appreciated or appropriate, in certain situations it can be extremely important to balance an unrealistically bleak perspective with a more rational one. If someone who is depressed comes out with a comment that his or her life is worthless and nobody likes him or her, remind him or her of all of the people who care for him or her, including yourself.
Getting appropriate treatment for the depressed and sticking to it
This involves getting treatment for the depressed person from a qualified healthcare professional. Encourage the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate. This may take several weeks. If no improvement occurs for a substantial period, seek a different treatment. You may be required to make an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. Also monitor whether the depressed person is taking medication. The depressed person should be encouraged to obey the doctor's advice about the use of alcoholic products while on medication.