Staying Connected

How to Spot Depression in a Loved One

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

If you live far away from friends and family, the holidays may be the only time of year when you connect with your loved ones in the same physical space.

“Holiday celebrations may offer a unique opportunity to really assess how your loved ones are doing,” says Shazia Qamar, M.D., a family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System.“The holidays can be a difficult time of year for a lot of people, but if your loved one seems to be depressed for more than two weeks, it’s important to take action.”

Lend a Helping Hand

Helping a loved one who may be depressed can be challenging under the best circumstances. If you live a significant distance from one another, ensuring your loved ones are safe and healthy can be a spirit-breaking responsibility.

Here are five strategies to help you rise to the challenge:

  1. Pay attention: The holidays are a time when people get together and enjoy each other’s company. If your loved one is sitting alone, not eating or not engaging in conversations, take notice and ask questions. “Pay attention to physical appearance, too,” suggests Dr. Qamar. Has he lost or gained a lot of weight? Does his skin look pale or sullen? Have his eyes lost their spark? Those are all signs of depression (or possibly another health condition) that warrant further investigation.
  1. Start a conversation: Instead of sticking to small talk, ask targeted questions. “What types of exercise are you doing these days?” “Do you have friends you see each week?” “How are you feeling most days?” If your loved one isn’t participating in their usual activities, isn’t socially engaged and is having trouble sleeping, those are all indications that he or she is not feeling well.
  1. Offer assistance: Find out if there are things you can do from afar to help your loved one better navigate challenges. If your dad’s hip is troubling him, pay a neighbor to shovel his driveway. Is your grandma struggling to keep up with the grocery shopping and cooking? Hire someone to come in a couple of times a week to help out, or look into a grocery shopping/delivery service or convenient pre-made meal options. Feel like your loved one is having trouble hearing? Take him/her to get their hearing tested.
  1. Take note of physical complaints: When you’re depressed, everything hurts. “Physical conditions, too, can lead to depression,” says Dr. Qamar. If your loved one can’t walk, run or participate in the activities they used to enjoy, depression may follow. Find out what’s ailing them and come up with a game plan to minimize the hit.
  1.  Stay in touch: Don’t let the holidays mark the end of your interest in your loved ones’ well-being. Call them frequently and ask how they’re doing. Most important, make sure their home environment is safe. You can even ask a friend or relative to pop by a couple of times a month with a care package you put together in advance.

Be Vigilant

The holidays can be a difficult time of year, particularly for the elderly. But help is available. In addition to scheduling a visit with your loved one’s primary care physician, put together a list of resources he or she can easily access.

“There are depression hotlines for families that can help evaluate patients, even over the phone,” says Dr. Qamar. “Depression is treatable. With more than 20 percent of the population dealing with clinical depression, your loved one is not alone.” 

Most important, if your loved one has persistent thoughts of self-harm, or has had thoughts about ending his life, get help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day seven days a week.

To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). You can also read more wellness advice in our FeelWellsection, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.


Dr. Shazia Qamar is a family medicine physician see patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Chicago Road in Warren. To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).