This year I have been learning so much more about depression. Through my own experience, through the stories of others, through researching out of general curiosity. Depression is a tricky thing. Not many people understand it because it’s a disease we can’t really see, so it can seem self-induced. But approximately 15 million Americans have depression and those are only the folks that have been professionally diagnosed. Mental health is still a huge stigma in our country, and is also quite expensive, so the statistics around its presence and impact are still unclear. However, we can all do something to help those folks we know who have depression. Here are some tips below!
- CHECK IN….FREQUENTLY
Something that happens quite often with people who are depressed is they detach. They increase their solitude and can often cut out the outside world. It’s not because they don’t want to be around their loved ones, sometimes they just don’t know how. Or they don’t want to be a burden. But even if someone you know who is depressed is distancing themselves, check in often. It doesn’t have to be 3 times a day every day. You don’t have to be overbearing or force them into conversations It can be something small. My aunt texts me in the morning just to say “good morning” and always sends a turtle emoji with it to remind me to slooooow down; even in my most depressed states my brain goes 800 miles per hour and can be incredibly anxiety inducing. Her daily check in is so not invasive, doesn’t make me feel I have to act a certain way, and reminds me that I have at least one person that is there incase I need to talk, vent or cry. These check ins are important because it’s in those moments of solitude that feelings of self-harm or suicide can increase. You never know how strong a simple text can be for someone who feels depressed and alone in their struggle.
- RESIST IMPOSING YOUR ADVICE
Sometimes we get scared when we see someone we care about struggle with depression. It can make you feel helpless. But here’s the thing, this person’s depression isn’t about you. And trust me, they know that there’s no magical thing that you can say to cure them; although we will wish for it every day! Everyone goes through hard times, so it can be really compelling for you to share your struggles and what you learned from them to your loved one. However, everyone’s experiences are different. How we face challenges are different. How we mourn is different. How we process is different. How we celebrate is different. What worked for you may not work for someone else, and by imposing your strategies and solutions it may make that person feel 1. unheard, 2. unsupported or 3. like a failure should they have tried your solutions before and they didn’t work.
- STAY AWAY FROM COOKIE CUTTER ADVICE
Going back to the last point, it can be really hard to figure out what to say or do in a moment when trying to help someone with depression. We get so eager to have the right answer to fix the situation that we rely on blanket phrases to help remedy their depression. Some things I have heard are:
- It will all be ok.
- It’s all in your head.
- It’s not as serious as it seems.
- You’ll get over it eventually.
- You won’t feel this way forever.
- You are stronger than this.
- There are people who are a lot worse off than you.
- Don’t be sad.
- You don’t need to be so sad, it’s such a beautiful day outside!
- Don’t let this control you, you choose how you want to feel.
- If you think positive, you’ll start to feel the same.
- Just get out more and you’ll feel better!
- You’ll only become stronger because of this.
Some of these statements, although from a good place, can really place a lot of pressure on that person struggling with depression. In a dream world, we could just snap out of it. It would all be temporary. We could just control it. But, what people tend to forget, is depression is not a state of mind, it is literally a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is completely out of our control. Our life could be the best dream life anyone could imagine, and we would still feel that little pocket of emptiness or hopelessness because that’s how our brain works. So instead of suggesting the above items, perhaps go with some concrete examples of that person’s successes. EX:
- That’s really great that you showered AND ate breakfast.
- You got a lot of work done today!
- You were really great at parenting and showing up for your kid today.
- I know you didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but I am really proud of you for doing it.
- I know it’s not easy working when you feel this way, but I think it’s really strong of you to still make it to the office and do everything you had to do.
- Great job eating a healthy meal today.
- Wow, you made it to the gym, that’s fantastic!
- ASK QUESTIONS
Asking questions will be your saving grace! Even if you have some advice to give to your loved one, a simple “Can I share an experience I had?” or “I have something I do that helps me when I’m sad, can I share it with you?” can go a long way. That way, you’re at least giving the other person a say in what information they feel they are ready for, but also be prepared for them to say “no” or to maybe not have much of a response when you share. That’s ok! It doesn’t mean they didn’t hear you, it just means they are processing the information in their own time. Some other questions that might be helpful to ask are:
- How are you feeling?
- Is there something in particular that happened to make you feel this way?
- Is there anything I can do right now to help?
- What will you be doing to take care of yourself today?
- Who are some other folks that can support you right now?
- PRACTICE ACTS OF SERVICE
When struggling with depression, sometimes the most mundane tasks feel overwhelming. Taking a shower, cooking a meal, talking to friends, responding to an e-mail. Every once in a while you just need A BREAK! If you’re finding that your loved one is struggling with the day-to-day, try to help them out when/if you can to help alleviate some of their stressors. Here are some ideas!
- Wash their dishes
- Cook for them (bonus points if you make enough to last several meals!)
- Order them if you can’t cook!
- Wash their laundry
- Sweep/mop the house
- Run errands like getting groceries
- Walk/feed their pets
- Water their plants
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
This is likely the most important. Your approach to how you support your loved ones with depression is really going to depend on your relationship with them, your personality intertwined with theirs, their needs, your capabilities, etc. There are a lot of factors at play. The best thing you can do is to first get educated on what depression actually is and how it can impact people. This also means asking some questions to your loved one, when/if they are ready to. Getting a general sense of what depression looks like is helpful, but knowing how it directly affects your loved one is even more helpful. To get a better understanding of what depression looks like in their life, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What are some things that trigger your depression?
- What are some signs that you are going into a depressive episode? How long do they usually last for?
- Do you take any medication? Do you feel like it’s working?
- Are you in therapy? Is it helpful?
- How long have you been dealing with depression?
- What are some signs that you are heading into a depressive state?
- What are some of your coping mechanisms?
- Who is in your support system?
This is just a starting point for you. I hope you find it helpful! Please note that I am not a professional doctor or expert on depression. I am writing solely from my own experiences and those who have shared their experiences with me. It might help you to find a doctor or mental health practitioner to ask more questions. Also, research and contact any local organizations that support folks with mental health disorders. The better equipped you are, the more you will be able to offer genuine effective support, or at the very least, show someone who has depression that you genuinely care about their well-being, which can be a powerful tool within itself. ❤