A sad person gazing out a window with a hand on their chin. Source: Img Kid
Depression is a drag. Everyone who has it experiences it differently, but we all agree that it sucks.
Sometimes, however, I wonder if people who don’t have it understand – like really truly understand – just how overwhelmingly painful it is.
For example, while it seems that people most commonly use the term to express fleeting feelings of sadness or disappointment, depression is actually a chronic physical illness with symptoms that are mostly invisible.
And although we’ve come a long way in our ability to treat it, we still don’t really know what causes it or why treatments work and don’t work.
It’s an exasperating disease to live with because being sad or frustrated or sleepless or numb for long, repetitive periods of time is exhausting – especially when you can’t prove to anyone that you’re really sick.
Even if your depression is manageable enough for you to leave the house, it can affect everything in your life.
It can interfere with your productivity, or even just the way you seem to your superiors at work – which has consequences for your performance reviews and ultimately the stability of your employment.
It can make your loved ones and friends want to be around you less because many people dislike the kind of negativity depressed people can become steeped in.
In its worst form, depression can lead to death. It’s a serious and draining disease to live with.
In a broad sense, fortunately, having depression doesn’t make you quite the social pariah it used to.
Diana Morales, vice president of public education at Mental Health America, started a survey in 1996 and found that “only about 38% of people viewed depression as a real health problem. But when they finished the survey in 2006, 72% of people viewed depression as a real health problem.
We’ve made good progress in de-stigmatizing having depression, but we haven’t made great strides in de-stigmatizing actually acting like you have depression – which most of us can’t help but do.
A simple Google search for “people with depression are selfish,” for example, yielded 1.3 million results.
Just like you can’t stop a headache with the power of your mind, most of us with depression are stuck with our symptoms, even if we are managing our depression with medication or other techniques.
While it’s wonderful that we’ve begun to fight the misinformation and prejudice surrounding depression, we’ve got a ways to go when it comes to compassionately and lovingly treating people with depression like they have a serious disease.
“Awareness” is great, but at the end of the day what I need is to be surrounded by people who actually understand my illness and know how to support me.
So here’s a guide to how to support a loved one with depression.
2. Do Not Shame People for Being Negative
Depression remakes the world into a landscape of negativity.
For example, something that happens for me during a depressive episode is that I can “connect” better to negative feelings than positive ones.
If my boss praises me at work, trying to experience a positive emotion of pride or gratitude feels like pretending. I have a hard time experiencing the positive emotions usually associated with praise when I’m depressed.
If someone criticizes me, though, anger, frustration and guilt are much easier to access.
Depressed people aren’t simply choosing to see the negatives and ignore the positives. The positives are as inaccessible to us as junk food in a vending machine when you have no quarters. We are really, truly unable to access positive feelings.
If the negativity is bumming you out, focus on what you want out of interactions.
Ask things like “Did something nice happen to you today?” Or deflect essays on what went wrong with their day with questions like, “Your hair looks beautiful today! Did you do it differently?”
Something that I find to be helpful is acknowledging that for people with depression, there are some days when, legitimately, nothing feels good for them. So, if you need a break from the Depression train, make it about you.
Don’t act like they need to try to find positivity where there is none. Tell them you need positivity so you’d like to talk about something positive, even if they don’t have anything positive going on.
And if they absolutely can’t redirect, take a break to surround yourself in the positivity you need and come back later.
This is what they had to say:
Phil Swales Be there for them. In person, not in spirit.
Anon don’t judge, when someone is depressed they find the simplest things difficult, just because it’s easy for you it isn’t easy for them.
Anon Just ask how they are from time to time and be ready to listen. But dont feel under pressure to provide answers.
Elaine Gardener Don’t tell them what to do. Allow them to talk if they want. They don’t necessarily need answers, just someone to listen but remember, When your brain is ill, there is no logical thinking.
Anon Don’t tell them ‘just get on with it’ or ‘don’t let it win’ or ‘if it were me I would…’
Stuart Middleton Be there for them and give them someone to talk to. When they start to withdraw its normally because they are struggling so try and reach out.
Phil Swales Know that just because you can’t see someone’s depression, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is. All the time.
Sarah Myers Contact them, (when I get bad I go quiet, someone getting in touch with me would help). Also just be normal. Let them know you’re there for them and if they they can talk to you about the depression but that you both can also just spend time watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy or Pretty Little Liars (‘normal’ everyday things you would do).
Frieda Blenkinslop Don’t panic, don’t take it personally, don’t necessarily search for reasons or solutions, don’t judge. Do befriend, sit alongside, let someone know ur there should they need, hold quiet hope, tell them they are loved, that u will hold their hand in the darkness and hold the knowledge that there is a light out there somewhere x
Andrew J Chisholm Never say well its not that bad and pull your socks up. And when I am really down I listen to or watch my favourite comedian in concert mainly Robin Williams.
Carlyn Crum Ask how they can help. I don’t know how many times I have to remind my partner he hasn’t actually asked how he can help when he says he doesn’t know how…
Sherry Spillane Just be there! Help them to do their daily tasks, rather than do them for them. (I really would have appreciated having someone to help me go through paper work etc when I just couldn’t deal with it, it would have been great to have someone to help me sift through it all). If they find it difficult going out to the shops, go with them etc.
Anon What I would most like is quite simple – it’s a hug. Just a hug, no answers, no suggestions, just a hug that says “I’m here, you’re not alone”.
Elaine Gardener Give them something nice like some sleep balm, some bath salts, some tea, or splash out and get them a Blurt BuddyBox to let them.know you’re thinking of them. Small things will let them know you’re there.
Jill Freeman Never ask a depressed person WHY they are depressed. Most of the time we don’t know. Just be there with a hand, an ear or a hug.
Jackie Davies Never make assumptions, depression is different tor everyone.
Jayne Hardy If you don’t understand what I’m going through, I really don’t mind you asking me questions – I’d much rather that than depression being the “elephant in the room”.
Eddi Newick Just be there and don’t give up on the person, however hard things get. They need you more than you know.
Anon don’t wait for them to make contact because that is sooooo hard sometimes. Pick up the phone and call them or send a text . It’s amazing how that will help even if they can’t reply they know you are thinking about them.
Krissi Asher A cup of tea and a hug can make everything different.
Laura Caillouet Boyles A friend cooked a big pot of food for us every week so she knew we were eating a decent meal and could take a break from one of the major daily family chores. It meant so much. Another friend always makes a cuppa or two or three when he comes over. So I don’t think: oh no, I have to be a good host; just oh, cup of tea, bonus!
Anon sometimes you don’t want to talk you just want company, just not to be on your own. A hug would be nice too.
Laura Caillouet Boyles Also, when I let HR at work know it was okay for people to know why I was off, they sent me a card, which made me feel less of a pariah. I know that’s a sensitive one, but even if they don’t say why you’re off, knowing people care instead of just facing a void of silence really helped.
Sam Stockdale Just be there. Sometimes just having someone there, even if they are silent means the everything. Depression is a lonely world
Jayne Hardy Depression makes me feel unworthy of help, I find it impossible to ask for help so if you see I’m struggling, asking me how you can help, and meaning it, makes the world of difference.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.
According to Padnos-Shea, one of the most important things you can do for someone you believe is experiencing clinical depression is to be there for the person and to let them know you are there. It is not uncommon for friends and family to avoid a depressed loved one—not out of any malice, but rather as a result of feeling impotent or not knowing what to do. The worst thing you can do for a depressed person is to abandon them. This only reinforces the false belief they are alone in a world where no one cares. Your loved one may push you away and isolate. This is common in depressed individuals. Regardless, be sure to let the person know in no uncertain terms that, when and if they are ready to reach out, you will be there.
It is important to note that a majority of people diagnosed with mental health issues, including depression, do not end up attempting or committing suicide. Despite the statistics mentioned above, the vast majority of those who experience clinical depression will improve with treatment. The determining factors in recovery include whether they choose to get professional help and the support they have in their lives. So, know that your support and your presence can absolutely make a difference.
- Current depression among adults – United States, 2006 and 2008. (2010, October 1). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5938a2.htm?s_cid=mm5938a2_e%0d%0a
- Depression fact sheet. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en
- Lifetime suicide risk in major depression: Sex and age determinants. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10628886
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Allison Abrams, LCSW-R, therapist in New York City, New York
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.