Counseling is an opportunity for an individual to be educated about the illness of depression, the signs and symptoms of depression, and the responsibility in managing depression. But counseling is also an opportunity for an individual to become educated on themselves and to gain self-awareness, and in particular to identify certain experiences in their past that can trigger certain difficult emotions related to depression in the present. Counseling provides the individual the opportunity to become educated about the disorder of depression and all that would be involved in taking responsibility, accepting, owning, and properly managing your depression disorder. It also allows the individual to become educated on themselves, educated on their past, make connections from the past to the present in order to be able to better anticipate and recognize triggers in the present and the future that potentially can trigger depression or bring on depressive episodes.
Yes depression is considered a mental illness. There are degrees -- mild, moderate, severe. But depression being a mood disorder is labeled as a mental illness or mental health disorder.
The more common signs that we see with depression is going to be an overwhelming sense of worthlessness. You often see a decrease in sleep, a decrease in appetite. Oddly enough some individuals actually see an increase, the point is you see an extreme for that individual, either an extreme decrease or increase in their energy level or appetite. You may see someone who is sleeping excessively. Any extreme, one way or the other outside their norm. Though many depressed individuals eat less, another individual may eat more, even say, "I'm an emotional eater. When I'm depressed I eat because it's soothing to me." So, sense of worthlessness, increase or decrease in appetite, increase or decrease in sleep. You typically see fatigue with depression, lack of motivation. You are typically going to see a flat affect or a lack of range in emotion with someone that is depressed. And of course with severe depression, it's not unusual to see someone who reports either having thoughts about suicide or more severe to even have devised a plan for suicide. In summary:
I think the most responsible thing to do is first of all to take it very seriously and be careful not to say things that suggest you're minimizing it or discounting the legitimacy of how that individual is feeling. I think also to be very sensitive to the possibility that they're not able to take your advice or your words of encouragement or your words of validation of their worth at that point. So the most responsible thing to do is ,first and foremost, take it seriously and secondly, to refer them to a professional that can appropriately assess and make recommendations for their treatment.