First Aid for Depression

According to Mind, the mental health charity, a quarter of us suffer from a mental health problem each year in the UK.  In the past when I employed people and realised someone in the team had been coping with a mental health problem for some time, I felt out of my depth and ignorant about how to approach it. 

So when I saw a mental health first aid training course advertised locally, I signed up to improve my understanding and ability to help others.

I thought it might be useful to pass on what I learned about depression.

About two thirds of adults will have an experience of a depressed mood in a way which interferes with what they normally do in their life.  So what’s the difference from being a bit down in the dumps and serious depression? 

People can be described as clinically depressed when symptoms go on for longer than two weeks and there’s a significant impact on what they are doing, their physical and emotional well being and their mental processes.

How would you know in yourself?

You could be diagnosed as being clinically depressed if you experience at least two of the following for at least two weeks (if you are severely depressed you might have 8 of these):

  • An unusually sad mood that doesn’t go away
  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities which used to be enjoyable
  • Lack of energy and tiredness
  • Loss of confidence or poor self esteem
  • Feeling guilty when not at fault
  • Wishing you were dead
  • Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
  • Moving slowly or becoming agitated and unable to settle
  • Difficult in sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changing eating habits that may lead to losing or gaining weight

What to notice in someone else

  • Differences in appearance – they may look more anxious or sad or move slower/faster than normal
  • Habit changes – lack of care over appearance, neglecting responsibilities, eating more or less than usual behaviour changes – more irritable or prone to tears or emotionally ‘blunted’
  • Thinking negatively – feeling guilty, worrying, unable to make decisions, thoughts about death and suicide
  • Physical changes – sleep problems (too much/too little), chronic fatigue, loss of energy, libido changes, mentioning unexplained aches and pains

How could you help them?

1.  ASSESS the situation by talking to them and ask them how they are feeling and let them describe how and why they are feeling this way.

  • Take what people say about their distress seriously.
  • Find out what support they have – they are more likely to be at risk if they feel alone and without resources
  • It can be a great relief for someone having suicidal thoughts to have an opportunity to discuss it and it’s important to identify the risk by asking them if they are having thoughts of suicide.
  • You must also take your own and others’ personal safety into account and seek help immediately if you think someone is at risk – (call 999, a GP, go to A&E or call The Samaritans on 08457 909090

2.  LISTEN without judging - be polite and respectful – this person is unwell and has been trying to cope

  • Don’t deny what they are experiencing
  • Don’t try to give advice – leave that for a professional but give them reassurance that help is available and there will be options for their future
  • Don't tell them to ‘cheer up’ or ‘pull yourself together’
  • Keep calm, be non-critical and patient

3.  REASSURE and give information

  • Express that depression is a real medical condition, that is common and there is hope
  • It’s not a weakness and there are very effective treatments
  • They can get better with the right help

4.  ENCOURAGE to get professional help

  • It’s really important for people who have depression to be in contact with a health professional

5.  ENCOURAGE self-help

The key thing I took away from the excellent course I attended was not to shy away from discussing mental health issues with people I’m concerned about.  Depression is a lot more common than I thought and there’s a lot we could all be doing to be aware of the signs of distress.  Just encouraging people to talk about their feelings and listening sensitively can be of enormous benefit.

For more information about mental health first aid training contact Mental Health First Aid www.mfhaengland.org