Posts

Women and Depression – Part 2 – Traversing the Dark Pit

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.

Women and Depression – Part 1 – Tell Me How You Really Feel

We women love to gab! We talk about just about everything from a-z. We talk about our clothes, our homes, we swap favorite recipes, we catch up on favorite TV shows. We talk about other women, and what they are wearing, or how they are raising their children. We talk about how frustrating our husbands can be, we swap stories about our kids and we turn to one another for support and encouragements at just making it through a tough day or week. Not only do we talk about all these things, but we post them on Facebook too, for all the world to see. But the one thing that we rarely talk about is how we really feel. Oh, we will talk about how “stressed” we feel, or how “tired” we are. But it is the rare occasion where we will admit feelings like fear, anger and genuine sadness.

“I am so scared about our finances right now. We can barely make ends meet. I don’t know if we will have the money to feed our family this month.”– no we are too proud to ever say that….

“I feel so angry that my husband is working all the time. He rarely makes it home before it’s time to put the kids in bed, and when he does, he just complains how the house is a mess or how rambunctious the kids are being. He doesn’t see how much we all just miss him and need him.”– no, we couldn’t say that. What would people think?

“I am just so sad all the time. I can’t get out of bed in the morning, laundry is piling up, I don’t have the energy to cook… I know my family needs me, but I just can’t seem to function. I’m having a hard time. I think I might be depressed.”– Oh, gosh. No, that would make me sound like a terrible mother, or worse yet- crazy!

So we hold these feelings inside, and continue with our platitudes.

I’d like to try and change that today. I would like to do something with you for a moment that will encourage you to get in touch with your true feelings.

Close your eyes for a moment and think about the last 24 hours of your life. Think through all the things you have done, but then stop when you come to a moment where you were alone, truly alone with yourself. I want you to pay close attention to what you are feeling (not thinking). Don’t get distracted by thoughts of your spouse or kids. Just you. What is it that you are feeling in your heart? Fear, frustration, failure, anger, loneliness, guilt, emptiness, sadness, grief, disappointment, discontent? When you are honest with yourself, what feeling rise to the surface?

Statistics tell us that roughly 25% of women will experience depression in their lifetime. What that means is that up to ¼ of the women reading this are suffering from depression at this very moment. And maybe you are one of them. If not, it is highly likely that someone you care about is suffering from depression this very moment.

There are two audiences for this topic:

Part 1 will address the first; to those women who may be battling depression, who are overwhelmed by this ever present darkness and unsure where to turn. My hope and prayer is that after today you will better understand your pit, and what it will take to get out.

Part 2 will address the second; to those women sitting beside them. Women who will walk alongside other women, (or even our husbands, mothers, fathers or children) on this journey through the desolation wilderness we call depression. So much of what I hear from those who are trying to love and support someone with depression is a sense of frustration, of not knowing what to do to help. My hope and prayer for you is that you will glean understanding, empathy and tools to help you as you battle beside those you love.

So, let’s start by defining depression:

At times, everybody gets down in the dumps, but if life is consistently getting you down and your lows are making it hard to function, you may be suffering from depression. True clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or longer.

Symptoms

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
  • Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
  • Very difficult to concentrate
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping

Depression can also appear as anger and discouragement, rather than feelings of sadness.

*If depression is very severe, there may also be psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions.

So we can break down the effects of depression into 4 categories:

  1. Mood – Feel stuck and hopeless. Moods don’t respond the same to stimuli. Things that normally would make you feel happy have little to no effect. Anxiety and irritability often accompany depression as well, so not only are you depressed, but you are fearful that you will never get better, or you are biting the head off your spouse or kids and don’t understand why.
  2. Thinking – Depression impacts what and how we think. We view the world through dark colored glasses. Depression can change or distort the way you see yourself, your life, and those around you. People who have depression usually see everything with a more negative attitude, unable to imagine that any problem or situation can be solved in a positive way. We look negatively at ourselves, others and the world in general. It is also hard to think, to remember, to organize, to concentrate. Think about all the areas of life that this would impact.
  3. Behavior- low energy + limited motivation= less activity. There is also a lack of caring about appearances.
  4. Physical Changes- changes in sleep, appetite, some may even feel pain. You’ve seen the commercial “depression hurts”.

If you experience just a handful of these symptoms over a period of at least 2 weeks, you could be suffering from a clinical depression. A clinical depression is different from a situational depression in its severity and in the extent to which it impacts your ability to carry out the tasks of everyday life.

Archibald Hart, in his book on depression, has identified 3 major categories of depression:

  1. Endogenous depression- which comes from a biochemical disturbance in the hormonal system, nervous system, or even from an infection in the body. It rises spontaneously and requires medical intervention.
  2. Reactive depression occurs as a result of a real, imagined or threatened loss and usually lasts no longer than a few months. This type of depression may be treated with counseling alone, although often meds are prescribed to hasten the process of stabilization.
  3. Neurotic depression is a lifestyle response to stress and anxiety. It is used to escape other emotions and develops over a long period of time. It generally requires treatment with medication, as well as therapy to help identify alternative ways of handling stress and anxiety.

Why is it that with up to 25% of women suffering from depression that it so often goes undiagnosed and untreated? Because just the word “depression” is enough to strike fear in the hearts of many women. We say “I’m feeling a little blue”, “I’m just a feeling down”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I can’t stop crying”. We blame it on being “overly sensitive”… we are anything but honest with ourselves and others about the depth of our symptoms.

If this was cancer, we would face it head on. We would fight it with everything we have and we would get all our friends and family on board to pray for us, support us and fight for us. But depression, no, we won’t admit that to ourselves, let alone someone else.

Why? Because deep down we fear that there is something really wrong with us, and that we are to blame. We are afraid that others will look at us differently if they knew.

Besides the shame of admitting our depression to others, we struggle with questions of guilt. It is common to think that when our mood is low, we must have done something wrong. If we are sad, it must be because God is punishing us, or that we are missing something that everyone else seems to get.

I love the image of depression that I have heard many women use “the dark pit”. Those who have walked through depression know that feeling well. The good news is that you can be lifted from that pit of despair. There is hope and there is help available.

So, if you are depressed, what is your action plan? Well, a good plan involves BOTH the how and they WHY. How do I reduce these symptoms? And why is this happening? So here is what is needed:

  1. Tell someone who cares about you. (They have probably noticed something is wrong already, but they don’t understand the reality of how badly you feel).
  2. Ask them to help you get the help you need. Remember, your concentration and energy are low, so your ability to come up with a plan and follow it through are compromised.
  3. Get in to see a psychiatrist if possible, your GP if not, to be evaluated for medication. Meds take 4-8 weeks to take effect. If your doctor recommends meds, don’t waste time hemming and hawing when you could be getting better! Anti-depressants don’t deserve the stigma they have endured. You wouldn’t think twice if you went to your doctor that they told you that you needed glasses to improve your eyesight, or insulin to balance your blood-sugar, but somehow when they suggest anti-depressants we take it personally and fight against the recommendation.
  4. Find a good therapist and commit to attending therapy weekly for a minimum of 12 weeks. The longer you have suffered from depression the longer you will need to stay in therapy. It is here you can begin to answer the “why” questions as you learn to manage the tasks of daily living.
  5. Be honest with your friends and tell them exactly how they can help. (ie. Walk with you, come over to cook meals together, help you clean, pray with you, call and check on you etc.)

This blog is intended to inform and to help. If you are suffering from depression, please take the action steps listed above. 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