Helping a loved one with depression doesn’t have to be scary or hard. It just takes a little understanding, patience, and empathy.
What it’s like
For those of us with depression, one of the most challenging things about it is that sometimes it can happen with no warning. Life is going great and then WHAM! When it hits, EVERY. LITTLE. THING seems difficult beyond belief. Getting out of bed takes great strength. Holding even the most simple conversation with someone is draining. Replying to a work email feels more difficult than running a marathon. EVERYTHING is hard.
Also, when depression rears its ugly head, it feels like it is feeding on every positive thought we’ve ever had. Suddenly, life has a negativity filter on it and everything that happens to us feels like worst case scenario x 1000. We literally have lost all hope for anything. No matter how hard we try to be positive about something, our brain clouds over, bringing with it a rainstorm that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Because a mental health condition directly affects how the brain function, and because the brain is essentially our body’s command center, everything gets off kilter.
This is just a small glimpse into what is going on with us when we’re in the throes of depression.
How to help
We can’t help our mental health condition, and we want you to know that. If your loved one had diabetes, you wouldn’t tell them to just stop being diabetic. The same goes for depression. You can’t tell us to just stop being depressed or “buck up”. It’s going to take time for us to get through this and we need you to be patient. While we’re going through a depressive episode, we need kindness and sensitivity. You don’t have baby us, but just know that we need a little extra help to accomplish tasks. It will take a little bit of work on your part, but anything you can do to make things easier on us like making dinner, or running errands on our behalf, will help out. Remember the part where I said everything seems difficult for us? I literally meant everything. And because things are hard, all the plates we’re spinning start to drop. Then we feel even MORE depressed because we’re having a hard time doing even the most simple things. Know that whenever you can lend a hand, you’re helping to stop that negative cyclical thought process we have going on. Another thing is, please let us sleep or veg out, but not for too long. When we’re depressed, these activities are a great escape for us. It gives our minds a break from all the worry and negativity and gives us a chance to recharge. Having said that though, don’t let us do this for too many days in a row. Sometimes hiding from the world by sleeping or vegging out becomes too enticing of an escape and we can get stuck. This is where you gently need to force us to do something good for ourselves, like take a walk, go for a run, or ride a bike. Offer to go with us, but don’t expect us to talk much. It’s not because we don’t want to, it’s just that it just takes too much strength. Still, we want you there, because it’s just nice to know we’re not alone. Encourage us. Encourage us to see our therapist or counselor. I know I just said talking can sometimes take too much effort when we’re depressed, but mental health professionals can help us through that. That’s what they’re there for; to help us redirect our negative thoughts and talk through ways to get out of the valley we’re currently in. Also encourage us in general. Positive affirmation is so powerful and really can affect the dynamics of the brain. Our minds are so clouded over when we’re depressed that we just can’t see the positive. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s because we can’t. You can help us though, with your encouragement. If you’ve never suffered from depression before, I know everything I just talked about might seem difficult to grasp. That’s ok though. It’s alright for you to admit you don’t know what we’re going through. You can just say “I’m here for you if you need anything and I love you.” That right there is one of the biggest things you can do for us…. Just let us know we’re not alone and that you see us and hear us.