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					What to do when a
friend is depressed…
…Find Out More About                                             You know that these school                                   How common is it?
                                                                                                                              Clinical depression is a lot more
                                                                years can be complicated and
 Depression                                                     demanding. Deep down, you
                                                                                                                              common than most people think. It will
                                                                                                                              affect more than 19 million Americans
What is depression?
Depression is more than the blues or
                                                                are not quite sure of who you                                 this year. One-fourth of all women suffer
                                                                                                                              at least one episode or occurrence of
the blahs; it is more than the normal,                           are, what you want to be, or                                 depression during their lifetimes.
everyday ups and downs. When that                               whether the choices you make                                  Depression affects people of all ages but
“down” mood, along with other symp-
toms, lasts for more than a couple of
                                                                 from day to day are the best                                 is less common for teenagers than for
                                                                                                                              adults. Approximately 3 to 5 percent of
weeks, the condition may be clinical                                      decisions.                                          the teen population experiences clinical
depression. Clinical depression is a seri-
                                                                                                                              depression every year. That means
ous health problem that affects the total
person. In addition to feelings, it can
                                                                Sometimes the many changes                                    among 25 friends, 1 could be clinically
change behavior, physical health and                             and pressures you are facing
appearance, academic performance,                              threaten to overwhelm you. So,
social activity and the ability to handle                                                                                     Is it serious?
                                                                  it isn’t surprising that from                               Depression can be very serious. It has
everyday decisions and pressures.
                                                               time to time you or one of your                                been linked to poor school performance,
                                                                                                                              truancy, alcohol and drug abuse, run-
What causes clinical depression?                                     friends feels “down” or
                                                                                                                              ning away, and feelings of worthlessness
We do not yet know all the causes of                                       discouraged.                                       and hopelessness. In the last 25 years,
depression, but there seem to be
                                                                                                                              the rate of suicide among teenagers and
biological and emotional factors that
                                                                 But what about those times                                   young adults has increased dramatically.
may increase the likelihood that an
                                                                                                                              Suicide is often linked to depression.
individual will develop a depressive                             when a friend’s activity and
disorder. Research over the past decade
                                                                outlook on life stay “down” for                               Are all depressive disorders alike?
strongly suggests a genetic link to
depressive disorders; depression can                            weeks and begin to affect your                                There are various forms or types of
run in families. Difficult life experiences                       relationship? If you know                                   depression. Some people experience only
and certain personal patterns such as                                                                                         one episode of depression in their whole
                                                                someone like this, your friend                                life, but many have several recurrences.
difficulty handling stress, low self-
esteem, or extreme pessimism about
                                                                   might be suffering from                                    Some depressive episodes begin suddenly
the future can increase the chances                              depression. As a friend, you                                 for no apparent reason, while others can
of becoming depressed.                                                                                                        be associated with a life situation or
                                                                          can help.

D E P A R T M E N T O F H E A LT H A N D H U M A N S E R V I C E S • P U B L I C H E A LT H S E R V I C E • N A T I O N A L I N S T I T U T E S O F H E A LT H
stress. Sometimes people who are

depressed cannot perform even the

                                              …Be Able To Tell Fact                       you can talk to an adult—that’s what a
                                                                                          real friend will do.
simplest daily activities—like getting
        From Fiction
out of bed or getting dressed; others go
                                                 Myth: Telling an adult that a friend
through the motions, but it is clear
         Myths about depression often separate
                                                                                          might be depressed is betraying a trust.
they are not acting or thinking as
           people from the effective treatments
                                                                                          If someone wants help, he or she will
usual. Some people suffer from bipolar
       now available. Friends need to know
                                                                                          get it. Fact: Depression, which saps
disorder in which their moods cycle
          the facts. Some of the most common
                                                                                          energy and self esteem, interferes with a
between two extremes—from the
                myths are these:
                                                                                          person’s ability or wish to get help. And
depths of desperation to frenzied talk­
                                                  many parents may not understand the
ing or activity or grandiose ideas about
     Myth: It’s normal for teenagers to be       seriousness of depression or of thoughts
their own competence.
                        moody; Teens don’t suffer from “real”       of death or suicide. It is an act of true
                                              depression. Fact: Depression can affect     friendship to share your concerns with a
Can it be treated?
                           people at any age or of any race, ethnic,   school guidance counselor, a favorite
Yes, depression is treatable. Between
        or economic group.                          teacher, your own parents, or another
80 and 90 percent of people with
                                                         trusted adult.
depression—even the most serious
             Myth: Teens who claim to be depressed
forms—can be helped.
                         are weak and just need to pull them-
                                              selves together. There’s nothing anyone     …Know the Symptoms
There are a variety of antidepressant
        else can do to help. Fact: Depression is
                                                                                          The first step toward defeating

medications and psychotherapies that
         not a weakness, but a serious health
                                                                                          depression is to define it. But people

can be used to treat depressive disorders.
   disorder. Both young people and adults
                                                                                          who are depressed often have a hard

Some people with milder forms may do
         who are depressed need professional
                                                                                          time thinking clearly or recognizing

well with psychotherapy alone. People
        treatment. A trained therapist or coun­
                                                                                          their own symptoms. They may need

with moderate to severe depression most
      selor can help them learn more positive
                                                                                          your help. Check the following boxes if

often benefit from antidepressants. Most
     ways to think about themselves, change
                                                                                          you notice a friend or friends with any

do best with combined treatment:
             behavior, cope with problems, or handle
                                                                                          of these symptoms persisting longer

medication to gain relatively quick
          relationships. A physician can prescribe
                                                                                          than two weeks.

symptom relief and psychotherapy to
          medications to help relieve the symp­
learn more effective ways to deal with
       toms of depression. For many people a
                                              combination of psychotherapy and med­       Do they express feelings of

life’s problems, including depression.

                                              ication is beneficial.                      ❏ Sadness of “emptiness”?

                                                                                          ❏ Hopelessness, pessimism, or guilt?

The most important step toward over-
                                                     ❏ Helplessness or worthlessness?

coming depression—and sometimes the
          Myth: Talking about depression only
most difficult—is asking for help.
           makes it worse. Fact: Talking through
                                              feelings may help a friend recognize the    Do they seem

                                              need for professional help. By showing      ❏ Unable to make decisions?

Why don’t people get the                                                                  ❏ Unable to concentrate and remember?

                                              friendship and concern and giving
help they need?                                                                           ❏ To have lost interest or pleasure in

                                              uncritical support, you can encourage
Often people don’t know they are                                                            ordinary activities—like sports or
                                              your friend to talk to his or her parents
depressed, so they don’t ask for or get                                                     band or talking on the phone?
                                              or another trusted adult, like a teacher
the right help. Teenagers and adults                                                      ❏ To have more problems with school
                                              or coach, about getting treatment. If
share a problem—they often fail to                                                          and family?
                                              your friend is reluctant to ask for help,
recognize the symptoms of depression
in themselves or in other people.
Do they complain of
❏	 Loss of energy and drive—so they
                                             …Find Someone Who                           For More Information
   seem “slowed down”?                        Can Help                                   About NIMH
❏	 Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep,
   or getting up?                            If you checked several of the boxes,        The Office of Communications and
❏	 Appetite problems; are they losing or     a friend may need help. Don’t assume        Public Liaison carries out educational
   gaining weight?                           that someone else is taking care of the     activities and publishes and distributes
❏	 Headaches, stomach aches, or back-        problem. Negative thinking, inappropri­     research reports, press releases, fact
   aches?                                    ate behavior or physical changes need to    sheets, and publications intended for
❏	 Chronic aches and pains in joints and     be reversed as quickly as possible. Not     researchers, health care providers, and
   muscles?                                  only does treatment lessen the severity     the general public. A publications list
                                             of depression, treatment also may           may be obtained by contacting:
                                             reduce the length of time (duration
Has their behavior changed suddenly
                                             your friend is depressed and may            Office of Communications and Public
so that
                                             prevent additional bouts of depression.          Liaison, NIMH
❏ They are restless or more irritable?
                                                                                         Information Resources and Inquiries
❏	 They want to be alone most of the
                                             If a friend shows many symptoms of               Branch
   time?                                                                                 6001 Executive Blvd., Room 8184,
❏	 They’ve started cutting classes or        depression, you can listen and encour­
                                                                                              MSC 9663
   dropped hobbies and activities?           age him or her to ask a parent or
                                                                                         Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
❏	 You think they may be drinking            teacher about treatments. If your friend
                                                                                         Phone: 301-443-4513
   heavily or taking drugs?                  doesn’t seek help quickly, talk to an
                                                                                         TTY: 301-443-8431
                                             adult you trust and respect—especially      FAX: 301-443-4279
                                             if your friend mentions death or suicide.   Mental Health FAX 4U: 301-443-5158
Have they talked about
❏ Death?
                                             There are many places in the community      Web site:
❏	 Suicide—or have they attempted
   suicide?                                  where people with depressive disorders
                                             can be diagnosed and treated. Help is
                                             available from family doctors, mental
                                             health specialists in community mental
                                             health centers or private clinics, and
                                             from other health professionals.

                                             For Additional Information
                                             About Depression Write To:
                                             6001 Executive Boulevard, Room
                                                 8184, MSC 9663                          All material in this fact sheet is in the
                                             Bethesda, MD 20892-9663                     public domain and may be copied or
                                                                                         reproduced without permission from
                                             For free brochures on depression and its    the NIMH. Citation of NIMH as the
                                             treatment, call: 1-800-421-4211.            source is appreciated.

NIH Publication No. 01-3824                                                                                    Reprinted June 2001

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