Dealing With Depression Associated With Disability
by John Meyers
In my years of working with adults with developmental disabilities, I also dealt with many people with physical disabilities and with mental illness. Sometimes, they had all three! One thing I learned for sure is that you don’t have to have a developmental disability to have other disabilities. People who have an onset of a severe physical disability, whether it’s an obvious disability such as the loss of a limb or your sight, or less noticeable such as heart trouble or the loss of lung function, can easily slip into depression. And depression is serious stuff.
We all get “depressed” at times, but when feelings of intense sadness – including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless – last for days to weeks and keeps a person from functioning normally, mild depression may become clinical depression. Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anyone who expresses suicidal thoughts, even jokingly, should be taken very seriously!
Do not suggest to a depressed person that they just “get over it.” They can’t. Provide emotional support. What a person who has depression needs most is compassion and understanding. Telling them to “snap out of it” or “lighten up” are awful things to say. The best things to say are “How can I help you?” or “Look, I will be here for you. I won’t leave you to face this on your own.”
Usually, depressed people lie about their depression. So if someone says, “Are you OK?” they will probably say “Yes,” but you have to make sure that they can tell you how they really feel. Look for behavioral signs – they say “Yes,” but then they draw into themselves and can’t even face you. They probably aren’t really OK.
Explain that asking for help does not mean that they are weak or sick or crazy. On the contrary, it takes both courage and wisdom to ask for help. Help them to understand that they have taken a big step just by asking for, and accepting, your help. Encourage them when they take that big step!
Fighting depression can take time, and may require professional help from a mental health professional and/or medications (antidepressants) such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, or Cymbalta. Check with your doctor before starting any medication! For more information check the National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov.