When You or Someone You Know is Depressed
Musicians' Assistance Program
Volume C, No. 10October, 2000
While the entertainment industry offers many opportunities for creative satisfaction and excitement, this is often accompanied with much uncertainty, upheaval and frustration. The nature of their work sometimes plays havoc with the emotions of musicians and others in the business, and of those who live with or care about them. The stress of finding and keeping work, getting paid, surviving on a low and irregular income, and coping with frequent travel can seem overwhelming. One problem both musicians and their partners often encounter is depression.
Depression is widespread: it affects nearly 10 percent of adult Americans aged 18 or over each year. It can be devastating to all areas of everyday life, including family relationships, friendships and the ability to work and function effectively. But many people still feel a sense of shame associated with depression, and believe they should be able to shake off the symptoms if only they try hard enough. People with depression often fail to recognize that they have a treatable disorder, or are discouraged from seeking help.
If you suspect that you, or someone you are close to, may be depressed, how can you be sure? Symptoms include sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, changes in appetite or weight, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, physical slowing or agitation, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, difficulty in thinking or concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. A person who has five or more of these symptoms and impairment in usual functioning nearly every day during a two-week period is considered to be suffering from a major depressive disorder.
Some people experience a chronic but less severe form of depression called “dysthymia.” This is diagnosed when a depressed mood persists for at least two years and is accompanied by at least two other symptoms of depression. Then there are the blues, the temporary depressed state that almost everyone gets into from time to time: a feeling of being a bit low or sad, but which lifts spontaneously within a short time.
If you think that you or someone you care about is more than just temporarily “blue,” it is important to know that depression is very treatable, even in its most serious form, through psychological therapies, medications, or a combination of both. The most important – and sometimes the most difficult – step is asking for help. But it is important to get treatment right away.
You can help a depressed friend or loved one by offering to make an appointment with the person’s doctor, a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, and driving them or arranging transportation for them to keep the date. Accompany them to the appointment if they would like you to.
Even when the depressed person is getting professional help, they (and you) will need special understanding until they feel better. Depressed people often frustrate and alienate those around them by appearing to have no interest in their partner or in doing anything they once liked to do together, acting self-absorbed, seeming to have given up on things and lost all initiative, or not following through on commitments. They may want to spend an inordinate amount of time in bed, watching television, surfing the web or just daydreaming.
Try not to take it personally. Remind yourself that the person is ill, and is not withdrawing deliberately. Especially in the early stages of the disease, it’s likely the depressed person won’t respond to you – and if you get a response it may not be what you would normally expect. But try to keep in mind that people suffering from depression do notice efforts to reach out to them and appreciate them, even when their illness renders them incapable of acknowledging this. By continuing to reach out, you are reinforcing the fact that you care.
CARING FOR YOURSELF
It’s important to take care of yourself during this difficult time. Guard against getting dragged into the emotional whirlpool that has your loved one feeling down. Stay involved with other people and work at not becoming isolated. Solidify family and social connections, pursue hobbies and other interests. Consider getting some counseling yourself.
Depressed people often engender tremendous feelings of guilt in those around them. It’s important to realize that you have nothing to feel guilty about. You can’t relieve clinical depression with love alone.
Why some people become depressed under circumstances that other people can take in stride remains a mystery, although scientists are discovering that genetic and hormonal factors play a significant part. Joint counseling for couples with one depressed member may be helpful; a study has shown that this can sometimes be more effective than antidepressant drugs in determining the duration of the disease and preventing recurrences.
Finally, keep in mind that depression is almost always curable. It will lift – but in the meantime, your care and understanding can help a lot, and not just for the depressed person, but for yourself.
If you believe that someone you care about is clinically depressed or that you may be suffering from depression, the MAP office can provide assistance through free short-term counseling as well as assessment and referrals to psychotherapists to address this issue. The MAP office phone number is (212) 397-4802. Office hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Anne Minich worked as a social work intern at Local 802 this summer. Information for this article came from the British Journal of Psychiatry, the National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/invisible.cfm and www.depression.com.