Depression can seem like such an easy concept to understand – it is just feeling sad for an extended period of time, right? But, the truth is that it is a complex condition that is different for every person who suffers. This can be extremely frustrating for both those that suffer from depression and for those that care about them and want nothing more than to help them through difficult times. There is no “rule book” for being there for someone who is going through a depressive time. But, there are some things to think about that could help you to best support them without making things worse.
Start By Just Listening
The number one thing that most depression suffers want from their friends and family is just a little bit of understanding. And, if you’re not a sufferer yourself, the best way to understand what they are going through is just to listen to them without judgment or advice. But, this might actually be more difficult to do than you might think. When someone we care about is hurting, it is our instinct to try to fix it. And because depression is not something with an easy cure, people often try to downplay the problem without even realizing that they are doing it. Resist that urge and just act as a sounding board instead. While you might not feel like you’re doing anything to help, it is very likely that your loved one will appreciate this more than any sort of advice that you could offer. Truthfully, sometimes “encouraging words” can come off as insulting or condescending to someone suffering from depression and can cause them to feel even more isolated and misunderstood.
It’s likely you’re not going to get through a whole conversation with this person without saying a word. So, when it is your turn to offer your two cents, just let them know that you are there for them if and when they need some help. This might mean having a few more vent sessions, offering to take them out (with the understanding that they might decline) or even finding little ways to take the pressure off of them so that they can work towards getting healthy. Let your loved one know that you want to know how best to support them without imposing your own ideas on them too much.
This is a big one! Don’t try to compare what they are feeling to anyone else, even yourself if you’ve dealt with depression. There is often a lot of guilt and anxiety that goes along with depression and telling people that “it could be worse” or even a story about someone else that you know who is successfully managing their depression could have the opposite effect and cause them to sink further into their own thoughts and negativity. Remember that emotional pain can be as crippling as physical pain and that they need to find their own road to recovery.
As many as 25% of people will be affected by depression in their lifetime. For some, it is temporary thanks to some passing difficulty in their lives. For others, it is something that they will live with throughout their lives. If you have someone in your life that goes through this, know that there is a treatment that could help them through it. For some it’s therapy, medication, or a change in lifestyle. Encourage them to get help from a medical professional if you feel that there is risk of them becoming a danger to themselves. Don’t be afraid to speak up and let them know that you are thinking about them and committed to helping in any way that you can. But, also understand that it might takes some ups and downs before they find a treatment and lifestyle that works best for them.
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