Depression: How Do You Know If You or Someone You Love Needs Help?

Debra HeadshotBy Debra Fox

Depression is a serious illness that can strike anyone at any time.  Life’s stressors can sometimes be overwhelming, ultimately leading to a depression.  Divorces, job loss, the loss of a spouse, parent or loved one, are among the most stressful times in a person’s life.  But how do you know if the symptoms are a natural part of the grieving process or a more serious condition of clinical depression?

According to Dr. Jules Rosen, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, “Symptoms of depression can often mimic medical or physical illness.  For example, low energy, reduced appetite, irritability, and weight loss are common symptoms of depression, and are also common in a variety of medical conditions.”

If you, or someone you love, are having the following symptoms of depression, Dr. Rosen advises that you “seek the help of a physician to either treat or rule out any physical condition and to determine if your symptoms require depression treatment.”

  • Prolonged Sadness and Irritability – The mood of a person is often a key indicator.  Interestingly, you don’t have to feel sad with “depression”.  Irritability or other negative mood states are common.
  • Loss of Interest – Have you, or someone you love, lost interest in the things they once enjoyed, such as hobbies, friendships, exercise or other activities?
  • Change in Sleep Patterns – Are you or someone you love now sleeping too much or too little? Either not wanting to get out of bed or insomnia are signs depression.
  • Decreased Energy Level – Does it require effort to do even the most mundane things such as going to the market, making sure the bills are paid or preparing dinner?
  • Change in Appetite – Have you or someone you love starting eating very little, even seeming nauseated at the thought of food or have they started suddenly overeating and finding solace in unhealthy eating habits?
  • Intense Negative Feelings – If you, or someone you love, are experiencing feelings or thoughts of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness for any period of time, you should seek medical assistance.   Hopelessness is probably the most dangerous symptom of depression, and can lead to suicide.

Dr. Rosen reminds us that, “If a person suffers from an untreated clinical depression and it leads to thoughts of suicide, it is time for immediate assistance for yourself or to intervene and get help for the person you care about.”   Suicide is the most tragic outcome of depression.  What makes this outcome even more tragic is that depression is treatable and preventable.  For some people, working with their primary care doctor may be sufficient.  But if there is no symptoms relief after 4 to 6 weeks, more specific mental health professionals should be sought.  Psychotherapy and anti-depressant medications, either used separately or together, are effective in treating depression.   According to Dr. Rosen, “Most people with depression will find relief with treatment.  Sometimes it takes several months and trying different therapeutic approaches.”    Although hopelessness is a symptom of depression, Dr. Rosen assures his patients that this is NOT the reality.  Depression is a treatable illness!

Debra Fox is the CEO of Fox Learning Systems. Fox Learning Systems is dedicated to improving the quality of eldercare for both the professional and family caregiver. Fox Learning Systems is the proud content provider for the Pennsylvania Homecare Association’s My Learning Center, a free service of educational videos for both the professional homecare worker and family caregiver. To view this video series, register at My Learning Center. For more information on Fox Learning Systems, go to

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