Education Week: How to help loved ones who have depression

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As a clinical social worker in Pleasant Grove, Steven Eastmond brings 20 years of experience to his presentation on how to understand and help loved ones who have depression. (BYU Continuing Education)

Clinical social worker Steven Eastmond encouraged individuals to understand depression and learn how to support those who have depression in his Education Week presentation.

Eastmond walked viewers through three major topics: understanding depression, how to recognize it and what to do to support loved ones who have depression.

“It is important for us to understand what other people are experiencing, how we can validate them, how we can support them and get them the help that they need to change those beliefs and those ways of thinking,” Eastmond said.

What is depression?

Eastmond explained depression to viewers from the experience of his own clients. “They just don’t feel like they’re even able to plug into their circumstances, and it creates a real despondency for them as they’re with loved ones and they know they’re supposed to feel some joy … but they feel nothing,” he said.

He expressed how it can be hard for those who have not experienced depression to understand. “The brain is powerful in what it tells us is going on. Most of the time it works well for us. It’s hard for us to understand sometimes when another person’s perspective is different,” Eastmond said.

He shared data to explain how common depression really is. He said 20% of U.S. residents deal with mental illness, 6.7% deal with depression, and only a third of those individuals are receiving help. He hopes that as people learn about depression they’ll be able to recognize and help their loved ones.

How to recognize depression

Eastmond said he does not suggest diagnosing loved ones but encourages people to be attentive of those in their close circles. Just one symptom does not diagnose or classify an individual as depressed, but “what we’re looking for is more of a constellation or myriad of symptoms taken together that are a little out of the bounds that you’d normally see,” he said.

Viewers were told that symptoms can be different for various age groups. He explained loud outbursts and heavy crying can be symptoms in children, and changes in personality, grades dipping or irritability are larger symptoms that could be signs of depression in adolescents. In adults, sadness, an inability to connect with people or things they used to find satisfying, sleep and appetite changes as well as lack of concentration are symptoms. In elders, it can differ with excessive worrying about finances or health problems and the concern of feeling like a burden. He encouraged viewers to support their loved ones facing these challenges in receiving the help they need.

How to support loved ones

Eastmond gave suggestions to his viewers on how to best support those loved ones who are facing this difficult challenge. “First of all, seek to understand what is happening with this person. It’s critical we try to get information from them. They might not want to talk much, but it’s important for us to ask questions and seek understanding,” he said.

He warned individuals to avoid lecturing or minimizing the symptoms others are facing by assuming they just need to think more positively.

Eastmond encouraged individuals to continually reach out and invite those loved ones to participate in activities they used to enjoy and participate with them. He said to express love, support and gratitude for the presence of these loved ones in their lives.

Eastmond told viewers helping and supporting a loved one with depression is not going to be a fixer-upper job. “We’re not gonna fix this. That’s not something that any one of us can just do,” Eastmond said. He encouraged viewers to reach out to professionals and even the use of medication, depending on the seriousness of the case. 

He said he hopes his viewers are there to recognize and help those with depression and lead them to get the help they need.

Eastmond said he recognizes the strain this may place on a caregiver and encouraged caregivers to take care of themselves as well. But, he reminded viewers, “if you can understand that’s what’s going on in their mind, that they’re not seeing it the same way you are, that’ll help you to have some compassion and patience with them.”

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