Living with someone who has depression can be at times, depressing as well. You might feel so confused and totally unaware of what to do. Maybe you are hesitant to help because you are afraid that you might just hurt them further. Or maybe you have tried giving that person lots of advice but you feel frustrated because he or she won’t just listen.
Depression is a serious mental health problem that can last for months or years. You might feel helpless like your loved one who is suffering from depression because you don’t know what to do. But don’t forget that your support is significant. The following are some ways on how you can support someone who suffers from depression.
Just be there. One of the best things you can do for someone who has depression is to be there. Healing starts when someone is there by your side as you cry all the hurts and frustrations out. Let that person realise that he or she is not alone in this battle. You are there to support him/her. You might notice that there are times when your depressed loved one tries to push everyone away. That’s part of what he/she is going through. No matter what, just be there. You need not always say or do anything. Just sitting by his/her side is sometimes powerful enough to initiate healing.
Learn about depression. If you never had depression, understanding what your loved one is going through can be difficult. But then, you don’t have to jump into the water to measure its depth. You can be more capable of understanding depression by feeding your mind with the right information. Read books about it, consult a psychotherapist, or ask a professional who specialises in depression. Once you came to know and understand the symptoms, course and consequences of depression, you can better support your loved one.
Never judge or criticise. Depression is an illness. Don’t tell your loved one that “It’s just in your head”, “You’re just making things more complicated”, or “You just have to see the glass half full and not half empty.” It’s like telling them they have a choice not to be depressed. But saying these things can further increase their depression. Just like you, your loved one doesn’t want to feel this way. Nobody wants to feel depressed. As much as possible, we all want to stay happy. If only they could, they would. So really be careful about the remarks you drop. Depressed people are very vulnerable. They might take your advice negatively, even if your intention was just to help them recover.
Don’t underestimate the pain they’re going through. Never ask “Why do you let small things bother you?” Don’t think that your loved one is suffering from depression because of some weakness or physical flaw. Understand that he or she is struggling with a difficult disorder. Those “little” things you consider insignificant may cause them real, agonising pain.
Don’t be harsh. Some people think that the best way to help someone overcome depression is to be tough on them. For instance, some might intentionally be impatient with their loved one, choose the ‘silent approach’, or push them to their limits, set boundaries, and so on. This won’t work. It only makes the depressed person feel more isolated and tormented. It’s as bad as pushing away, not caring for, and ignoring someone who has cancer.
Avoid making comparison. Unless you have been through depression yourself, telling your loved one that you feel what he or she feels may not be helpful. Even if you had experienced depression before, you should also take note that no similar experiences are exactly the same. Maybe your intention is to make that person feel less alone, but this could make them feel you are underestimating the pain they are going through.
Seek help. Often, people with depression don’t recognise that they have such condition. Explain to them that the condition can get progressively worse; even become chronic, if not treated early. Utilise support services in your community or online resources to find the best therapist to help your loved one.
Realise that treatment is the key. Depression is a medical condition which requires medical care. As a family member or a friend, your support is really essential but it may not be enough. If you keep this in mind, you are less likely to feel frustrated because you know that even your best efforts are not the cure. The best thing you can do is to support your loved one during the treatment process. Get active in their care. Accompany your loved one as he or she sees a therapist. Offer to drive him/her to treatment, and be there to listen if he/she wants to talk about something.
Keep in touch. Call your loved one and ask him/her to join you in some leisure activities. People who are depressed may become isolated because they don’t want to “bother” other people. Remember though that you may need to work extra harder on this, as your loved one is likely to refuse on your first few invites. Consider choosing an activity that the person finds interesting.
Focus on small goals. One way to make a depressed person feel better is to let them know about their accomplishments, no matter how small they are. Document and praise small, daily achievements your loved one has, such as completing his/her first phase of treatment, being able to go to work, smiling, etc.
Take care of your well-being. It is a natural impulse to want to fix things for your loved one. But always remember that you don’t have full control over things. It is important that you also watch your well-being as you assist your family member or friend overcome depression. Remember the protocol in airplanes? Put your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. You won’t be able to help them further if you let yourself collapse under the pressure of trying to help. Also, when your needs are well taken care of, you will have more energy to lend a helping hand.
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