In Part 1, we explored what depression means and what to do if you are suffering from it. Let’s take a look at how it affects others and what you can do if you have a loved one going through depression.
Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes said this of going through depression.
“There is no way to describe the anguish that a depressive can put his/her family through. Gloom, doom, no love, no real communication, short-temper and leave-me-alone fault finding. It is no wonder more marriages don’t break up under these desolate circumstances, for you know deep down the damage you are doing to the ones you care about, the ones who have to live through it with you and suffer from depression fallout, and yet you feel somehow incapable of doing anything to lighten the burden for them.”
So, if we know and understand how difficult it is for someone suffering from depression to do ANYTHING, and we understand how great the impact of the depression can be on the family of the depressive, what should that mean for those of us who walk alongside this person?
How to help someone with Depression
A great deal of trouble results when we confuse little d with big D depressions. It leads many of us who want to help to faulty assumptions about what a person suffering from clinical depression is going through, when in reality, we haven’t got a clue. It may lead us to thinking that we have the answers to make things better, the solutions that will help the sufferer snap out of it and get them back on track. The problem is that many of the things that are helpful in lifting the spirits of person who is temporarily down are not at all helpful to someone suffering from clinical depression. In fact, despite the best of intentions, our words or actions may actually hurt the sufferer and widen the gap between the person dealing with depression and those who care about her.
The reason we get caught up in thinking we can fix this, is that along with depression come common struggles that we can identify with, anger, frustration, fear, loss… but these things have not caused the depression, they have only been further exacerbated by the depression.
Our first task as one who stands beside is to listen. Listen. Don’t judge, don’t fix, don’t react. Listen. They need to get all the ugliness and pain out. You will want to correct their faulty thinking, or to tell them they don’t need to feel this way, but every comment, every reaction on your part feel, to your friend either dismissive of their feelings, or disapproving of them for feeling this way in the first place. To be truly helpful, you need to let them bleed out, without trying to bandage the wound.
Next, be truthful about what you have heard. If the friend has not yet seen a doctor or therapist, they need to hear that you believe their condition to be serious, and that you are highly concerned about their well being.
Next, offer unconditional love and support. Hug them, pray for them, show up at their house (even if they tell you no!), check in with them daily, ask the tough questions, help them “do” life, drive them to appointments, be assertive. Depression is not a battle that can be won alone.
However, you need to be careful that you do not allow depression to suck the life out of you. Be realistic about what you can offer, and firm about your boundaries. The best approach is a team approach, all of you sharing the load. Being realistic about depression means acknowledging that healing can take weeks or months. You must be willing to invest for the long haul, and you can’t do that if you empty yourself in the first few days.
Have a place for you to share your feelings and receive support yourself. Depression fallout is real. People who spend time with a depressed person report feeling more depressed and agitated themselves.
One of the best defenses from depression fallout is to try to separate the person from the depression. It is important that you hold onto what you know is true about your friend… she is a loving and caring person etc. Know that when she acts in contrary ways or says things that are cruel and insensitive, it is the voice of depression that you hear, not your friend. It is really easy to take things personally when you are with someone suffering from depression. Keep a true perspective.
Finally, be prepared to interact with your friend around the big questions. Don’t offer platitudes, but instead, be willing to study with your friend those who have walked this path before them.
True Encouragement happens when we are willing to crawl down into the dark pit and get a little dirty… when we aren’t afraid of our friend’s “stuff”… and when we carry them when they don’t have the energy to walk alone.
This blog is intended to inform and to help. If you are suffering from depression, please take the action steps as listed here. Whether you talk to your doctor, find a therapist or choose our services, we want you to get the help you need.
At Bridge Family Counseling Center, we will walk beside you. With our sliding scale, therapy has never been more affordable. Give us a call today! (916) 557-8881.