Sometimes it can be hard being the loved one of someone with a serious hidden illness such as depression and knowing how you can help or what to say can be difficult. In this blog post we discuss ways in which you can support a person who has depression through a depressed period of their life.
1. First, understand depression is a serious illness and not the same as being ‘sad’
There is a difference between a moment of being sad and being depressed. When you are depressed you have prolonged feelings of sadness and sometimes physical symptoms of pain in the heart, you can become almost emotionless and find it hard to be motivated and get very low energy.
It can be hard to understand in the written word but here is a good video giving you a better understanding of what depression is.
2. Understand that a depressed person doesn’t always know ‘why’ they are
Unlike other illnesses such at contracting viruses or breaking a leg the reason for becoming depressed can be hard to define. For some it can be social implications, highly stressful life experiences, successive disappointments , even biological reasons (other family were bipolar ) and for others , the unfortunate ones, never know why they are depressed.
Knowing that a person doesn’t always know why they are depressed can help you in knowing that sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there for that person and help them seek medical attention from a professional.
3. Even if someone is looking up remember, depression can still be lurking
With depression it is like being on a rollercoaster. You think one moment you are up and well again and the next day you can feel back down to your low depressed self. It can be something that triggers your depressive thinking but sometimes it can simply be a lack of serotonin levels in the brain.
Whatever the reason you need to be aware that even if things seem better they can go back again so enjoy the moments that your loved ones are happier and let them know you are there for them in their hours of darkness.
4. Ask how you can help
Rather than telling your loved one you can help, ask them how you can help.
Even if you have experienced depression yourself what has worked for you may not necessarily work for the one you care for.
Showing you care about what can help them feel a bit better will be greatly appreciated and if they want help they will be so glad you asked.
5. NEVER tell them to get over it or ‘poor you, life is so hard’
Putting your depressed loved one down or trying to tell them to ‘get over it’ is almost impossible and will only make them feel even worse than they already do.
They know people are starving in Africa, they know there are people in war torn countries but it doesn’t change how they feel in their heart about their own life, in fact telling a depressed person to think about others worse off will either make them feel guilty or worthless, you MUSN’T say there are people worse off than you.
Healing from depression usually takes time and even years later can always be lurking in the background of a person who experienced severe levels of depression.
6. Remain calm and compassionate
Depressed people know it can be a strain living with someone who needs care and feels very low all the time, it can be a trigger for even deeper depression feeling like a burden and sometimes it’s natural that you get frustrated when you see little progress of healing being made.
Remaining calm and compassionate even when your loved one doesn’t feel they can tackle the day will help them fight their depressed feelings when they feel a little stronger as they know they have your full support and reinforce that they are not a burden but in fact, that you love them very much.
7. Give them space when they need it
Although a depressed person needs love and care sometimes they just need to rest and take things easy to allow their mind to heal. Obviously you need to be aware of previous conversations and to ensure that they are safe to do so.
Sometimes people prefer to be on their own rather than with someone all the time and it’s appreciated when you realise this.
8. Being told other people are worse off than you does not change how they feel
Never tell a depressed person that there are people worse off than you as firstly, it will make them feel guilty that they are depressed and that they shouldn’t be, secondly it will not make them feel better knowing it because of the way they feel is so painful its hard to comprehend anything outside their immediate environment.
9. They can’t always accept advice
As much as you want to advise a depressed loved one it can be almost impossible for them to accept what you have to say ( it is even harder if you are family). It’s not personal it is just that anything takes effort or a small sense of motivation can be difficult to undertake.
If you do give advice don’t get upset if they don’t act upon it right away it just may not be the right time to take it.
Do not be discouraged in giving advice, still offer ideas but make sure to listen carefully to what your loved one has to say as the road to healing depression is a very unique one to the person.
10. Don’t be confrontational
If you confront the ill person due to frustration or feeling like they ‘aren’t trying’ then you will only make the situation worse.
Try to remain calm at all times and realise that with time the depression can ease and they will eventually improve. For some it takes a few weeks, others months or even years till they are functioning at a normal level again.
Confrontation and anger will only hurt both of you and have no benefit to the situation.
11. Don’t blame them for feeling the way they do, they already feel worthless
Telling someone to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘it is there fault’ will only compound the already difficult situation. A depressed person finds it difficult to see the positive in situations and feel terribly guilty about feeling the way they do.
Keep in mind that they don’t want to be depressed and if they could take a pill to just get over it they surely would.
12. Showing genuine care and love
As previously mentioned, genuine care and love can really help someone recover from depression easier than if they have to do it on their own.
Making cups of tea and lunch, caring for what they need, listening to them and talking to them normally will really help the person back to health.
13. Be prepared for ups and downs
Some days you will see the person you always knew was there behind the dark shadows if this illness and it may well feel like they have been cured or on the road to recovery and the next day something will ‘trigger’ them back into a depressed state.
This is normal in a healing process but as progress is made you will notice more ups than downs. Sharing in the good times and comforting in the bad times will help your loved one know that good times do still exist and that they have something to live for in you.
14. Encourage them to talk & Listen
Trying to talk about their problem can be really good to start the healing process, whether they speak to you, a friend, a GP or a psychiatrist letting out their pain to someone who cares matters.
Not everyone likes counselling but for some people it can be a really therapeutic tool to let out how they feel inside.
For some, by talking about their problem it can help in identifying possible solutions and ideas to overcoming their depression.
15. Ask them to write down how they feel and keep a journal
When the founder of BoM was severely depressed his mother advised him to keep a journal/diary. He did this and now when he looks back, the very first page talked about how he wanted to no longer be on this planet, was clinically assessed at suicidal risk and now he has a career, travels often and a partner he loves very much.
The message here is that by keeping a journal a depressed person can see just how far they have come EVEN when they don’t feel they have made any progress at all.
16. Understand they can get irritable
When depressed it is possible to get quite frustrated with the illness and yourself so expect them to be quite irritable at times. When this happens the best thing you can do is not try to cheer them up but let them know you are there for them if needed and give them some space to cool off.
17. Understand healing takes time
Like any illness, depression doesn’t heal instantly. For some people it can be quick and for others prolonged depending upon several factors.
By understanding healing takes time and there is no set time when depression is reduced greatly will help you prepare for the long haul.
Let them know you will be there along their journey with them will provide comfort and strength for when they are trying hard to change the way they think and do things again.
18. Each person’s cure for depression will be different
Each depressed person becomes depressed for a very personal reason to them and that also means that the cure for depression will be different too.
Taking a tablet, although helpful, will not get to the root cause of the mental and emotional pain.
It will help in bringing back some serotonin and endorphins in the brain but more needs to be done in order to identify the root cause of their depression.
19. Learn to be patient
Be patient. As it takes time to heal and some days will be very hard you will need to learn to become patient as your loved one goes on their own journey of recovery.
20. Don’t shame or judge a depressed person
Making a depressed person feel bad about themselves for being ill will only fuel self loathing, rage, frustration and spite towards you.
Try your best not to insult the person you care for, they are trying their hardest to recover, insulting will only damage progress made.
21. Support them in finding the right therapy
My experience of the NHS is that they offer limited services to healing depression and things are only just starting to improve regarding mental health but there are many alternative therapies available for people with depression such as CBT, EFT, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, talking therapies, art therapy and many more.
Soon BoM will have a database of various therapists around the world that may be able to help you with your road to recovery.
Finding the right kind of therapy for you is vital as different therapies will work better for different people.
22. Stay in contact
If you don’t live with your loved one let them know you are thinking about them through a text, a thoughtful small gift or a phone call so they know you care and also so that they know that they have you to look to should they need help.
23. Start small goals rather than one large ‘cure’
Goal setting is really important for depression. The main goal is obviously to reduce or remove the illness but that goal is HUGE!
You can’t reach the top of the stairs by skipping the 99 steps below the top step you have to take each step as a time.
For example, the founder when ill, didn’t go out much and so his first goal was to start going out on walks, longer and longer ones to eventually walking miles after a month.
Next, he decided another goal was to improve his fitness and after this he also decided to find a job ANYWHERE in the world which then led to him meeting his wife and getting a job but before getting there he had a long road to recovery.
Healing depression takes time but the rewards at the end can be worth it, truth be known , the feeling of satisfaction and completion when you have been through a very hard time is intensified and the feeling of appreciation increased.
24. Understand anti-depressants aren’t a cure but a help
The tablets that GPs give are not the cure, fact. They are a tool to help rebalance an unbalanced brain as when a person becomes severely depressed they loose their natural ‘happy hormones’ and so the antidepressants help stimulate the growth of these chemicals.
They don’t deal with the root cause of the depression or anxiety, there needs to be extra therapy undertaken in order to understand the illness and begin to heal.
24. Read books and blogs about depression and also about success stories
Educating yourself about depression from medical experts and people who have experienced and survived depression can help arm you with knowledge that you can use to help your loved one along their journey.
25. Watch their favourite comedy together
A depressed person rarely feels like laughing, they rarely feel like doing anything at all really as the situation doesn’t feel very funny to them. Putting a dvd on of their favourite comedian can sometimes raise a smile which will instantly make them feel better inside if only for a small respite from the way they feel.
Distracting the mind from thinking about negative things can be powerful towards healing depression. Another great way to also improve a depressed persons mood is to play computer (or board) games together, they don’t need to go out but the interaction and the fun that you have will release endorphins into the brain and will also provide a distraction to how they are truly feeling.
26.Give them a hug
Simple but effective! Give your loved one a hug, there is no better feeling than knowing you are loved no matter the situation and a hug can improve the way anyone feels.
27. Be there
But most of all just be there for them without judgement or ridicule, offer just love and compassion. This is the fundamental foundation of helping someone heal from depression.
Also, although you must be there for your loved one NEVER forget that you have needs to, listening to a person talk about their problems all the time can be draining to your feelings and if you are a sensitive person, could drag you into depression also.
Make sure to take time to enjoy what you do too so that you have the energy and positive attitude that a depressed person needs.
Do you have any other suggestions to how you can help support a person with depression?