“We are not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.” – Peter De Vries
After sharing my thoughts about the misconceptions surrounding depression and its physical symptoms, I realized I didn’t want to leave such a negative impression. So to follow up, I’d like to offer some additional advice regarding what to do when someone close to you is suffering from depression. Here are a few concepts to keep in mind when offering help.
If you’re unfamiliar with depression, admit that to yourself as early on as possible. It never helps to assume you know what someone is going through. Present yourself with empty pockets and a willingness to listen. If you don’t have anything to say, silence is fine. It shows that you’re giving their words room to breathe and aren’t just ready to respond before they even finish. Often, when the depressed individual attempts to put their mental state into words, it can be a process of trial and error. So foster an environment of open and patient communication. Oh, and LISTEN.
Don’t put solutions into simple language. Don’t say “Just get better” or “Just stop being sad.” Depression can make the difficulty of most mundane of tasks increase significantly. clichéd phrases like “it could always be worse,” “life isn’t fair,” or “life goes on” serve only to further isolate the individual. Language such as this can make an individual feel crazy for feeling the way they do. It does not take into account that there are more than just emotions involved, there’s neurochemistry that a simple pep talk can’t fix.
This can be a delicate task. If you suggest someone seek professional help it can feel dismissive. It can make them think you don’t actually care what their problem is, you just want it to end. Make sure they understand that it’s only because you’re not as familiar with depression as a professional would be. Offer to attend a therapy session with them. This will also give you, the friend, a better perspective on what’s required to really ferret out underlying issues causing depression. The mental health stigma is still unfortunately alive and well, so present the option of therapy as nothing to be ashamed of.
Everyone’s seen The Mighty Ducks, right? Well picture yourself as part of the Flying V and the person close to you, who happens to be struggling, is at the front and they’re passing the puck to you when they need you. A strong support network made up of friends and family can give an individual the confidence to move toward recovery. Even if you cannot even begin to relate to what your friend is going through, tell them they’re loved and that you’re there for them. One of the most valuable things you can do is to encourage activities that are engaging mentally and/or physically. Exercising together is one of the more simple solutions, but you can also encourage activities that require responsibility like gardening or volunteering. If mobility is a concern, something as simple as playing a board game can encourage a healthy mindset.
Going through depression is a challenge with many obstacles, but it’s infinitely less challenging when you take loneliness out of the picture. I’d like to encourage readers to comment with their experiences with being on either side of this relationship.
Reed Parker writes in order to feel like his English degree was not a waste. He enjoys playing banjo and telling bad jokes. He once stayed up all night looking for the sun. Then it dawned on him.