Dr. Rita Gray, a licensed psychologist, is the Director of Clinical Training for the Will County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division. With October being “Depression Awareness Month,” Dr. Gray says awareness of the long term care that’s needed for someone diagnosed with depression is just as important as recognizing the symptoms themselves.
Another thing that’s important to be aware of, Dr. Gray says, is the difference between chronic depression and someone down on their luck. “Depression can be a complicated, misleading term,” Dr. Gray explained. “Anyone can have a bad day or a brief period of being upset because of school or work, a relationship problem, or maybe due to finances or the passing of a loved one. But chronic depression is not temporary. It can be very crippling to one’s daily life.”
Dr. Gray says it is very important to watch for symptoms that have become a regular part of our lives or the life of a loved one. This can include being sad and tearful on a frequent basis, not wanting to get out of bed, a lack of interest in pleasure, sleep pattern changes, or frequent irritability.
In addition, Dr. Gray says sometimes people “want to latch on to something that they’ve heard a lot about. A good example might be Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); but when you look at everything else going on, it could actually be depression.”
Another important piece of information is what often accompanies depression in a person. “Depression will affect 22 percent of the public at some time in their lives,” Dr. Gray stated. “People often think that’s the highest rate you’ll see for a chronic mental condition. But it’s not. The most frequent one, at 30 percent, is anxiety. But we often see a co-occurrence. In fact, it’s rare that one exists without the other.”
Anxiety symptoms can include an increased heart rate or heavy breathing (or perhaps waking up at night with one or both conditions). There are also symptoms such as constant worry, or perhaps avoiding things that cause the worry such as work or school.
“A student might be avoiding school because of bullying, or an adult may be avoiding work because they hate their job. Then the student worries about what that does to their grades and the adult worries about being able to pay bills. And soon, you have depression symptoms as well.”
Again, we come back to the word “awareness.” Dr. Gray says being aware of what is going on in our own, our kids,’ and our loved ones’ lives is extremely important. “Depression can often by triggered by a disturbance in the body, perhaps an illness such as heart disease or diabetes. Then, we need to remember that depression can be triggered by good events as well as bad. In our profession, our list of factors we look at includes things like vacations, marriages, or even new jobs and promotions. In all of those cases, there’s usually plenty of pressure and things to worry about.”
If you have a loved one who seems to be fighting chronic depression symptoms, showing that you care is very important. But Dr. Gray reminds us that the response to reaching out varies from person to person. “While some can be very hypersensitive or embarrassed about their symptoms, others might be thrilled that someone is reaching out to them and showing that they care. Either way, you need to build trust with the loved one and know where to get help.”
Dr. Gray says getting help can be a whole new ballgame itself if the person you are reaching out on behalf of does not want it at first. For example, a man or woman may approach the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division about their spouse or partner, but none of the staffers may have ever met the spouse or partner. In that case, the person who came forward needs to know their options.
And similar to what Al-Anon does for families struggling with alcoholism, those with loved ones suffering from depression can also find support groups that offer education and discussion.
“The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great source,” Dr. Gray said. “Lots of hospitals have support groups too. But they are rather private. You won’t necessarily see them on the bulletin board at the grocery store, but if you google the hospital and explore their website, you can likely find something that fits you.”
And most of all, Dr. Gray says it’s important during Depression Awareness Month to “be aware” that long term support is needed for someone being treated for depression. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, you’ve got your medication, you’re going to treatment sessions, why isn’t this fixed yet?’ This is a lifetime battle, and they need your support.”
The Will County Health Department provides services to address these issues for adults, children, and adolescents. The Behavioral Health Division can be reached at 815-727-8521.
To find a support group, go to NAMI’s web site at https://www.nami.org/
and click on "find support." You can also reach their "help line" at 800-950-6264. For more on Will County Health Department services and programs go to willcountyhealth.org.