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How to Help When a Loved One With MS Is Depressed




























Seeking out support and developing a plan of action to handle problems can help both you and your loved one with MS.
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When a friend or relative with MS is depressed, there are steps you can take to help.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD

MS affects more than just physical and cognitive abilities. It can also take a toll on a person’s emotional health.

Research shows that half of all people living with multiple sclerosis experience clinical depression — also known as major depression — at some point during their lives. Depression can be triggered by the stress of living with a chronic illness or by grief over the many losses associated with MS.

Certain MS disease-modifying drugs can also cause depression as a side effect. Those that are known to do so include the beta interferons — Avonex or Rebif (interferon beta-1a), Betaseron or Extavia (interferon beta-1b), and Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a) — as well as Zinbryta (daclizumab).

Researchers are also investigating the possibility that the inflammatory brain changes that occur with multiple sclerosis may contribute to depression in people with MS.

The good news is that people who have multiple sclerosis and depression can respond to the same treatments as people who don’t have MS: psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, learning better coping skills, and self-help approaches, such as participating in support groups, exercising regularly, and generally following a healthy lifestyle.

But finding the energy and motivation to seek help can be tough if you’re depressed — and some depressed people don’t even realize that they are depressed.

So if your loved one with MS has signs or symptoms of depression, you may need to take the initiative to help this friend or relative get help.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

People who are depressed may say they’re feeling sad, glum, low, worthless, unwanted, or like a failure. They may express hopelessness, be self-critical, lose interest in daily activities, or frequently seem angry or irritable.

Sometimes symptoms of depression are physical. People might have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, have aches and pains in various parts of their body, and experience changes in appetite or weight.

At the extreme, depressed people may think about or even make plans to kill themselves.

Encourage Your Loved One to Seek Professional Help

Any time depressive symptoms last for more than two weeks or significantly interfere with a person’s work, family, or social life, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

But keep in mind that occasional feelings of sadness are normal for both people living with MS and their families, says Dorothy Northrop, master of social work and vice president of research and clinical operations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). “The losses you face are going to make you sad,” Northrop says, but depression interferes with normal functioning in a way that sadness about a loss does not.

Seeking help can start with your loved one speaking to his primary-care doctor or to a member of his MS care team. Most specialized MS centers have psychologists or social workers on staff, but any doctor should be able to refer a patient to a mental health specialist.

You may be able to get the process started by offering to make a doctor’s appointment on your loved one’s behalf, collaborate on a list of symptoms to be discussed at the appointment, or come with your loved one to the appointment.

If your loved one is reluctant to get help, recognize that you can’t convince a person to do something he doesn’t want to do. But know that gentle encouragement, coupled with having someone close to you show concern about your symptoms, can sometimes bring about a willingness to act.

That being said, if your loved one is talking about suicide, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK).

In countries outside the United States, call your local emergency services number, or find a local crisis center through the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Offer Emotional Support

Encourage your loved one to talk about what’s bothering her, and do your best to listen without judgment. Resist the urge to contradict, offer quick solutions, suggest that things aren’t that bad, or suggest the person “shouldn’t” be depressed because of the many blessings in her life.

Acknowledge that your friend or relative is going through a tough time, but avoid agreeing that the situation is hopeless. Instead, try the following:
  • Tell your loved one why you like her and enjoy spending time with her.
  • Remind her that she won’t always feel this way.
  • Let her know you care and are there for her.

Offer Practical Help

People who are depressed often find it hard to make decisions or take action. Even routine household chores, such as washing dishes or straightening up, may seem overly onerous when one is depressed. If you can, offer to help with such tasks.

You might also offer to make a phone call or run an errand on behalf of the depressed person. This could include calling to schedule an appointment with a doctor or mental health specialist.

If your loved one doesn’t drive, an offer to assist with transportation may be appreciated.

Help Locate Sources of Social Support

Interacting with family and friends is important, but so is spending time with others who are living with the same challenges. People with MS can find support, understanding, and often helpful tips from others who have multiple sclerosis.

If your loved one doesn’t already participate in a support group, research what’s available in your area.

A good place to start when looking for an MS support group or one-to-one peer support is the National MS Society.

You can also offer social support to your loved one by finding activities you can do together. For example, you might propose to:
  • Watch a funny movie together.
  • Take a walk or do some other form of exercise.
  • Visit a park, botanical garden, or nature center.

Model Active Coping Techniques

Active coping techniques involve recognizing what’s causing you stress and taking steps to change the negative effects of that stress.

Some examples include seeking support if you’re feeling lonely or alone with a problem, engaging in relaxing activities or exercise to reduce feelings of stress, and brainstorming possible solutions to a problem when one arises.

Jonathan Mosher — whose wife, Mimi, was diagnosed with MS more than 25 years ago — avoids becoming overwhelmed by the limitations imposed by MS by making time for things he likes to do to. For him, going for a hike or simply taking a nap can help stave off black moods, he says.

Mimi Mosher also has coping strategies that keep her positive. For example, she finds it helpful to take care of others when she's able.

“Generally, listening to somebody else's problems or lending somebody else a hand helps me to not focus too much on myself,” she says.

By modeling coping techniques that help you, you may inspire your loved one with depression to try new approaches to dealing with problems or negative feelings.

Take Care of Your Own Feelings

Ultimately it’s up to the depressed person to take control of his treatment and recovery. You can listen to your loved one and offer to help connect him with a mental healthcare professional and other resources, but you can’t fix another person.

For your own mental health, it’s important to recognize the limits of what you’re able to do, and set limits on how much time and energy you spend on your loved one’s needs.

If you’re living with someone with depression and it’s weighing you down, seek out your own support system to talk about how you’re feeling.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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