Like many other mental illness diagnoses,depression can carry with it one of the most common human reactions: denial. With the stigma attached to mental disease by society, many people are unwilling to consider that they might have such a disease.
Unfortunately, studies have shown time and again that depression treatment success rates are highest among those who acknowledge their problem and become actively involved in their own healing process.
As a family member, friend, or loved one to a depressed person, it is important that you understand how to help someone in depression denial. It is not enough simply to tell them to accept them truth; overcoming denial can be as difficult as overcoming depression itself, and yet it is a necessary step before the healing can even begin.
The following are steps that can be taken to help someone comes to terms with their depression diagnosis:
- Make sure the person is actually depressed. The Internet and TV have made it easier than ever for people to think they can diagnose themselves, but depression remains a disease that can only be positively diagnosed by a mental health professional. And unless you are such a professional, you are unqualified to make such a diagnosis, as well. Pressuring a person to receive treatment for a condition they don't have can make that person feel even worse.
- Remind yourself and the depressed person that depression manifests with different symptoms in different people, and just because he or she isn't showing symptom X, doesn't mean what he or she is feeling isn't depression. Reassure the person that once treatment begins, it will become easier to face the reality of the situation.
- Without placing blame, be open and honest with the person about how the depression is affecting his or her relationships and everyday life. Not only will this show the person that depression is having tangible effects, but will also demonstrate that you and others care about the person enough to worry about him or her. Be specific in your remarks. For instance, it is better to say "You seem to be sick, and that makes me sad/frustrated/angry" than to say "I don't like seeing you like this." Make sure the language you use draws the person out and helps them confront the reality of their illness.
- Be patient. Overcoming depression, like overcoming many medical problems, can take a long time, and so can overcoming the associated denial. Give the person space to examine the new information, and realize that denial is a common way of handling all negative news. It is important that you make yourself a source of non-anxious support. If possible, try to frame things in such a way that the person feels they have more control. For example, instead of demanding that they accept treatment, acknowledge that treatment may or may not help them feel better, but it couldn't hurt to try.