It can be challenging and frustrating having a loved one with major depression. You want to help them but are unsure how. Or maybe they tell you they don’t need help.
I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for two decades, and it’s still hard communicating my needs and what’s going on in my head. Sometimes the pain is so bad and my thoughts are so dark, I don’t want to share or I can’t find the words to accurately describe what I’m feeling. Not being able to do is a source of frustration for my husband, but he’s patient and never makes me feel bad about going through a depressive episode.
Patience is key. You should never try to shame your depressed loved one about what they’re going through or make them feel bad in any way — believe me, if they’re anything like me, they’re feeling enough guilt and like they’re a burden.
Those feelings can actually intensify their depression.
It’s hard navigating such a complex disease, so I’ve listed 10 ways to help someone with depression below:
- Read and learn — Educate yourself by visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness website and the National Institute of Mental Health website
- Reject harmful stereotypes — Stereotypes fuel the stigma surrounding mental illness. Thoughts like “She’s lazy, she’s weak, she needs to just ‘Snap out of it,’ and that depression is ‘just sadness'” need to be eliminated. It’s hurtful and just makes people who suffer with depression feel worse.
- Check in with them often — When I get depressed, I tend to hide out in my house, but that’s not always good, especially now with coronavirus. I’m already isolated and going without contact from my friends makes me feel more alone and depressed.
- Encourage self care — In my opinion, practicing self care is the best thing one can do when they are depressed (aside from talking medications and going to therapy). I like to exercise, get massages, write and read books to feel better.
- Encourage therapy on a consistent schedule — Therapy can help people sort through their feelings and make healthier life choices. Talking about what’s going on just makes me feel better. I go weekly to see my therapist. My therapist isn’t cheap, but there are free or affordable resources available in my community (like at the college). Please check out what resources are available to you.
- Remind your loved one it get’s better and that they won’t always feel that way — It’s hard to realize that you won’t always feel so badly and life is so hard. I think it’s OK for someone to remind their loved one that all feelings are temporary.
- Listen — Sometimes we just need to vent (without any judgement).
- Be patient — Dealing with depression is frustrating for all, but one of the best things you can do is just be patient.
- Know that you can’t “fix” them — Depression is a completely treatable disease, but it is not curable. Unfortunately, most people with major depression will fight it for the rest of their lives.
- Know the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation — If you think a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you need to be direct and ask them things like, “Are you suicidal? Do you have a plan? Is there a gun in your home?” We can’t tiptoe around this subject; it may be uncomfortable to talk about, but it could save lives, too. Read about warning signs of suicide here. If your loved one is suicidal, do NOT leave them alone. Take them to the nearest emergency room. The doctors/nurses will assess the situation and your loved one will likely be transferred to an acute behavioral facility that can help. That’s my experience, anyway.
Helpful Things to Say:
- You’re not alone
- It gets better
- How can I help?
- You’re important to me
- I’m glad you’re in my life
- How can I support you right now?
- It’s OK to feel that way
- Your feelings are valid
Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Get over it, buck up or snap out of it” — People with depression can’t just “snap out of it.” Depression affects them both physically and mentally. Even the smallest of tasks are daunting, and sometimes, not possible. Aside from fatigue, people can have physical symptoms like joint pain, stomachaches, back pain and pure exhaustion. It takes a lot of work to manage depression, so expecting someone to come out of a depressive episode at the snap of your fingers doesn’t help anyone.
- “It’s all in your head” — Again, depression is a real disease, as real as any other. People experience mental and physical symptoms and telling someone it’s not real makes them feel bad and can sink them further into the hole of depression.
- “What do you have to be depressed about” — I hate this one. I live a great life; I’m very fortunate. I’ve always had everything I needed, but I also have this awful disease I have to contend with. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for what I have and my life in general. I can’t control feeling depressed any more than someone can control having a heart attack.
I hope this helps. It has certainly helped my loved ones help me.
Stay in the light, friends.