We’ve had a fair amount of discussion about depression on this blog. I think it is a topic that needs to be talked about. There are so many people who suffer from this illness, and those who don’t have it are often unsure of what it’s really like or how to deal with it.
Having had depression for most of my life, I feel qualified to give some suggestions on the subject. There are several things I have come up with that you can do to help your suffering loved ones. All of these things I have found to be either desirable or helpful in my own situation, so maybe they will work equally well in yours:
1. Don’t judge.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help those with depression. The need to feel safe and loved is especially strong when you are so vulnerable, and you need to know that those around you are not criticizing you for whatever weaknesses depression causes you to have.
People need to talk about how they feel, and if you are depressed you are overloaded with feelings. You need someone to hear about what you are suffering, just for the sake of a little relief and validation.
3. Relieve of responsibility for a period.
Depression makes everything difficult to do. A depressed person is carrying a huge mental and emotional weight at the same time he or she is trying to function as a normal human being. Responsibilities do not go away when you are depressed, but sometimes it would be nice if they did. Once in a while, give your depressed loved one a complete break by taking all responsibility off his or her hands. The relief will be tremendous and may provide the refreshment necessary to resume the burden of life with a little more energy.
4. Trust with responsibility.
After what I just said, this one might seem a little odd. However, it is crucial that someone who is depressed feels capable and recognized as such. It is often the case when you are depressed that you have a very low self-image, and when someone shows that despite that depression you are someone to be depended on, you can experience a raising of that self-image.
5. Make a meal.
Depression is a mental illness and, like any physical illness, demands special care of the one who suffers from it. Just as you might make chicken soup for someone who has a cold, you can make a meal for someone who is depressed. In doing so, you provide balm for two sensitive points: you validate what the other is suffering, and you show that you care.
6. Take care of some daily chore.
Just like making a meal for someone can lighten that person’s load, doing a simple chore like dusting, washing dishes, or folding the laundry can make a difference. If you have the time, help out once in a while. It will make things so much easier.
7. Express confidence.
A lot of these suggestions go towards expressing confidence, but people, especially those who are depressed, need to hear explicit affirmation. As I said before, self-image is low. People tend to feel that they are inferior because of their depression–and sometimes if you are depressed, you know that the depressed you is not the real you and that therefore you are trapped by some false presentation of yourself. Affirmation can help relieve such situations.
8. Don’t abandon them.
There can be swings when you are depressed such that at times you want to be around people, and at others you, for whatever reason, don’t. You may feel unlovable, you may feel threatened, you may feel too sad to make any social effort. Those that are not suffering from depression should do their utmost not to let these anti-social moments drive them away. The depressed person still needs them, and abandonment would be fodder for all his or her fears and hurts.
Depression is a very real and very difficult illness. Do what you can to lighten the load of those who suffer from it. If you can help even a little, it will make life that much more bearable for those you love.