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Depression Can be Hard to Recognize

Expert can discuss signs of mental illness, offering support

More than 300 million people worldwide have depression, according to the World Health Organization. Fictional characters portrayed on TV, in movies and in music who exhibit signs of depression are common – so much so, many people think they could recognize if friends and family members are depressed.

But while sadness, lack of pleasure in activities and lack of motivation are some of the more obvious indicators of depression, there are many that are not as easy to recognize, according to clinical psychologist Alice Frye.


“The less obvious signs of depression include fatigue, complaints about sleep, weight loss or gain and irritability,” says Frye. “Another major sign is losing interest in things that they usually value including pets and time with friends, along with changes in social habits and routines for no apparent reason, as well as problems with decision-making.”

Frye is an expert on interpersonal relationships, adolescent development and family and couples’ dynamics. She is an associate teaching professor of psychology at UMass Lowell.

Frye says the challenge in helping friends and family who exhibit symptoms is that sometimes people aren’t actually aware that they are depressed. She says while it can be difficult to broach the subject, being supportive is key.

“Gently noting a change, expressing non-judgmental concern and a willingness to listen is often times the best route,” Frye says. “Offering distracting activities such as hikes or movies can sometimes help someone feel better at least momentarily. But depressed people may find activities unappealing or aversive. So, offering to just hang out, to come by and do some work, go for a coffee and read the paper together, just offering a non-intrusive physical presence can be a comfort.”

Frye says it’s hard to balance between pushing too much and positive outreach. But a reminder that help is available can make a difference.

“It should be a goal to make sure that the person is safe, not at risk of suicide, and to get the person to seek professional help as soon as possible,” she says.

Frye is available for interviews on the signs and symptoms of depression. Also ways friends and family members can help those exhibiting signs of it.

UMass Lowell faculty experts are world-class researchers and scholars in a spectrum of fields. From science and engineering, business and education to the social sciences and humanities. Who lend authority to news and feature stories in an engaging and relatable way. Experts are available around the clock for interviews in person, by phone or live via ReadyCam. For more UMass Lowell experts, see www.uml.edu/experts.

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