How to Help Patients Who are Depressed
July 21 2018
Recognizing, Treating and Caring for Patients with Clinical Depression
Learning of a new health diagnosis or terminal illness can lead to feelings of depression and that you no longer have control over your own life. Grappling with or coming to terms with this news can be hard. As an in-home caretaker, you are often a witness to this personal battle and have the ability to quickly recognize the signs and help your patient.
Identify the Issue
Learn to recognize when the patient is suffering from depression and when the patient is sad or stressed. Some signs of depression include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, restlessness, irritability, weight lost or gain, insomnia or oversleeping, thoughts of death or suicide and difficulty concentrating. Note that many medications and other diagnoses could also cause these symptoms.
- Sadness is a feeling that we all encounter at one point in our life or, even within the day.
- Stress is the feeling that you are facing something that is causing a lot of tension and you have to figure out how to deal with it.
- Being depressed is something you have no control over. It is feeling sad or blue most of the day, almost every day, for a minimum of 12 to 15 days.
- Speak with your fellow team members to see if they have noticed the same signs of depression in your patient. Also speak with any family caregivers about your concerns.
- Talk with the patient’s doctor about your concerns.
- If the patient is prescribed an antidepressant, make sure to talk with him or her about why they have been prescribed the medication and why it is important that he or she take their medication. Take your time with this step, letting the patient voice any concerns or questions and answering them fully.
- Remind the patient that just because they are feeling better, does not mean that they can quit taking their antidepressants. Explain how antidepressants work: Antidepressants are maintenance medications–they help balance brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which affect your mood and emotions. If you stop taking the prescribed medication, the imbalance will return. Stopping a medication can also have some bothersome side effects.
- If things get really bad for the patient, remember that a counselor or social worker can help the patient to cope with their illness.
- Show your patient you truly care. Offer to sit and listen. Sometimes just letting someone talk, or cry, can be invaluable. You don’t need to have answers for them. Sometimes just offering them the time and space to for support is one of the best things you can do.
- Encourage your patient to do the things they love, whether it is reading, walking in the garden, painting or knitting.
- Let the patient know that he or she can get in touch with you if they need to talk.
- Offer support to family caregivers as well. Help them learn about depression and how to care for their loved one by sharing these tips.
- Never tell the patient to pull him or herself together or to snap out of it.
- Don’t point out all the positives in their life. Depression is an illness that makes it difficult to feel hopeful or optimistic and statements like these only make them feel guilty and ashamed.
- Don’t pressure them to talk about their mental health all the time.
- Don’t assume the patient is better after a few weeks or months. Keep checking in with your patient and show your support.
One of the most important things you can do is to just let the patient know you are there for them. It can be helpful to have someone to talk to who isn’t a family member or very close friend. Being a healthcare professional, you can also help to ease your patient’s mind. Depression is not something one can control and there is no shame in it. Remember to offer both your shoulder as well as your encouragement.