Supporting a loved one grappling with depression can be incredibly difficult. When someone we’re close to is struggling, it’s natural to want to do everything in our power to help them feel better. In patients diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression (TRD), a provider may recommend ketamine infusion as a viable treatment option. Despite the fact that ketamine is considered an off-label drug, numerous studies have shown marked improvement in depressive symptoms and rapid reduction in suicidal ideation in TRD patients receiving ketamine infusions. As a family member of someone receiving ketamine infusions for TRD, there are several strategies that can be implemented in order to offer them the unwavering support they need.

First of all, researching and understanding the symptoms of depression is key. Be able to recognize the common symptoms of depression, which can include feeling empty, hopeless, worthless, and sad, irritability, anhedonia (lack of interest in pleasurable activities), insomnia or hypersomnia, lethargy, appetite changes, anxiety, slowed cognition or motor coordination, troubled decision-making, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, and recurrent suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. However, everyone’s experience with depression is unique, so you will need to be able to recognize the depressive symptoms that your loved one tends to display. If you notice unusual changes, encourage them to seek assistance from a mental health professional. Individuals suffering from depression often don’t realize they are depressed or won’t acknowledge their depression. Unfortunately, depression typically will not go away without intervention, which is why it’s so important to advocate for the usefulness of seeking professional help from their doctor or a mental health provider. You can motivate your loved one to consult with a provider by attending their appointments with them or suggesting family therapy.

If you are worried about the possibility of suicidal behavior, contact emergency services. Risk of suicide in patients with depression is tremendously elevated. Be sure to foster a safe home environment for them, eliminating access to firearms, weapons, or medications that could be used for purposes of self-harm. Warning signs of someone’s intent to commit suicide include bringing suicide up in conversation, buying a weapon, hoarding medication, becoming socially withdrawn, exhibiting dramatic mood swings, a preoccupation with death, increased alcohol or drug abuse, excessive risk-taking, selling or giving personal belongings away, saying goodbye to friends and family, agitation, and severe anxiety. Pay close attention to your loved one, always watching for suspicious behavior and listening for peculiar statements.

If ketamine infusion is suggested for your loved one, it’s likely they have not responded positively to traditional treatment routes like antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. At this point, your loved one is probably feeling overwhelmed, deeply frustrated, and desperate to feel better. Ketamine infusion could be the remedy to finally bring them relief. Although they may have reservations about starting ketamine infusion, help them weigh the pros and cons. Even though ketamine infusions can be rather expensive, many TRD patients report improvement in depressive symptoms and reduction in suicidal ideation after a single ketamine infusion. If you are financially able, offer to help your family member cover the cost of treatment. In some patients, ketamine infusion can cause dissociation or hallucination; therefore, patients are not able to drive themselves home post-infusion. Offer to drive your loved one to/from their infusions. Additionally, talk to them about their experience with ketamine infusion, showing them that you are interested in their healing process and fully support their decision to undergo ketamine infusion.

Overall, the best thing you can do for a loved one with TRD is exercise empathy. Remind them that their depression does not define them. Let them know that having major depressive disorder is not their fault. Be the person that guides them toward the medical help they need and aids them along their path to improvement. Stay positive about their treatment plan — even when they lose hope. Assist them in developing a consistent daily routine that involves taking their medication as well as adequate time for sleep and physical activity. Spend time with them, but also take time for yourself. This will help you avoid outward displays of frustration toward them. Converse with them with an open mind and a caring heart, never passing judgment. Tell them how much you love them regularly, and above all, focus on treating them with the utmost compassion.

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