Understanding and Managing Depression

Christian Stephens
Understanding and Managing Depression


Depression is a mood disorder that is often described as feeling sad, blue, and unhappy. Most people feel this way at one time or another, however these feelings are typically short-lived. Depression involves feeling this way for a longer period of time and having these feelings interfere with everyday life. Depression can occur at any time in the life course, including during later life. 

There are different types of depression. Symptoms of depression can be short-term 

(lasting a few weeks) or chronic (lasting several years) and can be mild or severe. Depression also presents in different ways for different people; some people become sad and feel ‘down in the dumps,’ whereas other people may become irritable, grouchy or aggressive. Some adults who have depression also experience times of heightened mood and energy (mania). 

Ruling out medical problems 

Adults can appear depressed if they are experiencing pain because of an undiagnosed medical problem. Therefore, it is important to rule out the possibility that 

a medical condition has caused the change in the person’s mood. Some medications 

can also cause depression as a side effect and it is important to talk to the doctor if you notice signs of depression. 

What should I be alert for? 

The following table lists several symptoms of depression and the types of behaviors that may be observed. 

How is depression treated? 

Medications are frequently used to treat depression. It often takes some trial and error to find the right medication and dosage. Also, some medications can take several weeks to take their full effect and can have side effects. Psychological counseling (psychotherapy) can also be effective for treating depression. Psychotherapy involves learning how to identify and make changes to your behaviors, thoughts and feelings and to find ways to better cope with and solve problems. The most effective treatment for depression is often a combination of medication and psychotherapy.  

What are some tips to manage depression? 

  • Medication: Make sure medications are taken as prescribed; it can often take several weeks before medications take their full effect. Talk to the doctor about the types of side effects that may occur and ways to manage these side effects. Do not stop taking a medication without talking to the doctor; some medications can cause withdrawal symptoms unless you slowly taper the dose. Know the side effects of medications and talk to the doctor about any you are observing.
  •  Recognize patterns in mood: Many adults with depression feel worse at certain times of the day (often in the morning). Try to arrange the person’s schedule so that demands are the least during times of the day when he/she tends to feel the worst.
  •  Break down tasks: Depression often makes people feel as if tasks are too hard to accomplish. Break large tasks into smaller steps. Help the person focus on accomplishing these smaller steps.
  •  Reduce stress: Stress can make symptoms of depression worse and can put people at risk for future depression. Identify situations that cause stress. Wherever possible, try to find ways to solve these situations. It is also important to help the person learn how to cope with feelings of frustration and anger (e.g., listening to music, counting to ten, focusing on breathing or talking to a staff person or friend). Stability is also important for people with depression. If a change must occur, such as new staff or a new person, prepare him/her slowly for the change.
  •  Exercise: Make sure the person gets regular exercise.
  •  Nutrition: Eating well is important for feeling healthy and happy. Encourage healthy food choices and consult with a dietitian or doctor to identify helpful dietary changes or supplements.
  •  Natural light: Try to get the person outside each day or sit in natural light (e.g., near a window).
  •  Remain active: Encourage the person to participate in activities despite feeling tired and sad. Establish a daily routine to encourage the person to get out of bed, get dressed, and stay active despite their feelings of fatigue and lack of desire to do so.

There are several things you can do to help persons with depression: 

  •  Make sure medications are taken as prescribed.
  •  Know medication side effects and talk to the doctor about them.
  •  Try to get the person outside each day, or at least sit in natural light (e.g., near a living room window).
  •  Make sure the person gets regular exercise.
  •  Help arrange things that are enjoyable but don’t push the person to do things.
  •  Help the person interact positively with others in the house.
  •  Help the person find an activity that he/she finds enjoyable.
  •  Find something such as music or an activity that helps calm the person if the person gets anxious.
  •  Stability is helpful for people with depression. If a change must occur, prepare the person slowly for the change (a death in the house, a move, changes in staff ).
  •  Encourage a healthy sleep routine and diet.