For those of us lucky enough to have siblings we get along with, the bond you feel is unlike anything else. Yes, there can be arguments galore and weeks where you refuse to speak, but, for the most part, you have each other's backs. So when a sibling is struggling with their mental health, you may be one of the only people to notice. With this in mind, I spoke to some experts to find out the signs that indicate your sibling may be depressed.
"Siblings and family are often [the best people] to spot early signs of depression as they are usually closer to them," says counselling psychologist Dr. Sarah Davies. However, that doesn't make the experience any less difficult, especially as the illness can cause several issues both for the person experiencing depression and for the entire family, notes Helen Lewis, psychotherapist, counsellor, and owner of On Route Health.
Symptoms can vary, notes the Mayo Clinic, as no condition affects every person in the same way. But if you've noticed any of the following occurring in your sibling on most days for at least two weeks, it's time to do something to help.
1. Social changes
Look out for behaviours involving increased isolation or withdrawal. "Siblings may shut themselves off, stop getting involved in family activities, replying to texts, or returning calls," says Lewis. Dr. Davies adds that "retreating to their room at home [and] doing less social activities" are also signs, as well as withdrawing from studies or work.
2. Routine changes
We all have a daily routine. But when this routine breaks, there could be an underlying reason. Watch for changes in sleeping habits, notes Dr. Davies. This could involve a lack of sleep such as "trouble sleeping [or] staying up late into the night" or a desire to sleep more involving daytime naps.
Dietary changes can also be a sign of depression. "Either eating more or less, or eating more comfort, sugary, or processed foods," says Dr. Davies.
3. Mood changes
"You might notice differences in personality or moods," Lewis says. According to Dr. Davies, these can range from feelings of fatigue to appearing distant. "You may notice they struggle to engage in conversations as much as they did before; they may 'zone out' or appear blank," she adds.
Tearfulness and a tendency to feel more sensitive and more easily upset are also emotional alterations to watch out for along with feelings of hopelessness.
What to do next
If you notice any of these changes, "it is important to acknowledge" them, states Lewis, "and to try and understand why they are happening." This proves to your sibling that you are aware, and "gives them an avenue to speak about how they are feeling. This can make them feel less lonely and seen which is important for all of us, and especially important for those with depression."
You should, however, refrain from putting pressure on your sibling, she adds. It may be the case that they would rather speak to someone from outside the family. Encouraging them to "find specialist support or help" in the form of a GP or mental health professional is a good step, says Dr. Davies.
But if they do let you in, it can be useful to encourage them "to engage in small helpful steps each day," Dr. Davies continues. "Such as getting out together for a brisk walk or other exercise, seeing friends, going out to do something they once enjoyed, eating well, watching a comedy, and so on."
Lastly, on the path to help your sibling, try not to forget about yourself. Self-care is important, says Lewis, and getting the support you need can even "send positive messages to your sibling about acknowledging vulnerabilities and taking action to address them."
If you or someone you know is dealing with depression and need support, call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463. Help is also available online.