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How To Spot When A Friend Is Quietly Suffering From Depression

A new traffic light method indicates even mild symptoms of mental health lows, by helping people to identify and express what they’re experiencing.

For the month of February, Irish Tatler is producing a mini-series, #KindnessCulture in which we speak to people in different public spheres, who have suffered pointed negativity online. We feel that – in the wake of Caroline Flack's death – it is important to highlight how crucial it is to cultivate kindness when commenting and sharing.

Mental health, despite being the standalone topic du jour, proves increasingly difficult to detect.

So much so that an Australian advocacy organization The Depression Project has pointed to their detection method, the Depression Traffic Light framework, for identifying depression levels in a recent Instagram post.

The zones are pretty straightforward: green indicates mild symptoms, where you’re floating by; orange indicates moderate symptoms, where you’re treading against the waves; and red is when the sufferer is in the whirlpool.

The framework helps people identify and express what they’re experiencing.

And, in addition to providing a tool to people who are struggling with feelings of depression, it can help advocates and loved ones know how to help someone they believe to be suffering.

When a loved one is in the green zone – the most difficult to spot – you may not even notice at first, meaning that asking if things feel off is key. Feel free to mention that they seem a bit subdued, and ask how they are doing.

The yellow zone is a bit easier to spot, based on typical behaviour.

Negative thoughts, hopelessness, and sadness are likely to emerge during this period. The best thing to do for this friend is to make it clear that you are happy to listen. You can also ask them if there’s anything special that they need from you.

Rather than dead-end questions like “are you okay?” and “what’s wrong?” ask something more specific, like “you seem like you’re struggling recently—would you like to talk about it?” or “what can I do to help?”

When you deduct that a person is in the red zone, a different approach entirely is necessary. 

More often than not, the intervention of a professional is needed.

With this depression level, the person suffering often feels hopeless, paralysed, and perhaps even suicidal. The first order of business for helping this person is to identify if that’s a currently a risk.

Close monitoring and discussion around suicide – despite potentially being uncomfortable – is advised. 

However, it must be remembered that while this person can use whatever amount of help and attention you’re comfortable offering, be sure not to put your own mental health and well-being at risk by overextending yourself.

Follow the @realdepressionproject for more tips for yourself or for others struggling. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available: 

  • Samaritans – 116 123  – [email protected] or [email protected]
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
  • Aware -  1800 80 48 48
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101

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