Sometimes it can be hard being the loved one of someone with a serious hidden illness such as depression. knowing how you can help or what to say can be difficult as well. In this blog post we discuss ways in which you can support a person who has depression that comes from direct experience.
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. 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 as breaking a leg, the reason for becoming depressed can sometimes be hard to define. For some it can be social implications. Highly stressful life experiences. Successive disappointments. Even biological reasons and for others , the unfortunate ones, some never know why they are depressed.
Knowing that a person doesn’t always know why they are depressed can help you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there for that person. Then help them seek medical attention from a professional. Possibly even hypnotherapy to try to identify the cause of the depression so that it can be healed.
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. It can be something simple that triggers their depressive thinking and it’s important to know that this is ok. The healing journey is not a straight line up but a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Whatever stage your loved one is at , you need to be aware that it may still be lurking. Even if things seem better, the mood can shift back again, so enjoy the moments that your loved ones are happier. Let them know you are there for them in their hours of darkness.
4. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Asking 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 we are all unique. What has worked for you may not necessarily work for the one you care for.
Showing you care about what can help them feel better will be appreciated. They will appreciate that you are trying to help and be 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. It 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. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change how they feel in their heart about their life. In fact, telling a depressed person to think about others worse off will make them feel guilty. You MUSN’T say there are people worse off than you. It doesn’t help.
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. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Remaining Calm And Compassionate
Depressed people know it can be a strain living with someone who has depression. 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 you’re loved one doesn’t feel they can tackle the day will help them. They are more likely to fight their depressed feelings when they feel a little stronger. They know they have your full support and reinforce that they are not a burden. Instead, that you love them very much.
7. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Giving Them Space When They Need It
Although a depressed person needs love and care sometimes they just need to rest. This can allow their mind to heal. Obviously you need to be aware of previous conversations and 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. 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. The way they feel is so painful it is 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. Taking advice can be hard to accept for them ( it is even harder if you are family). It’s not personal, it is just that anything that takes effort, or a small sense of motivation can be difficult.
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. Listen 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. Realise that with time the depression can ease and they will eventually improve. For some it takes a few weeks. Others months or possibly even years till they are functioning at a normal level again.
Confrontation and anger will only hurt you both and has 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. This can make them feel terribly guilty about feeling the way they do.
Keep this in mind that they don’t want to be depressed. If they were able 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. It may well feel like they have been cured or on the road to recovery. Then, the very next day something will ‘trigger’ them back into a depressed state.
This is normal in a healing process. 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. It’ll let them know that good times do still exist and that they have something still to live for.
14. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Encouraging Them To Talk & Then 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.
For some, by talking about their problem it can help in identifying possible solutions. Possibly even ideas to overcoming their depression.
15. Ask them to write down how they feel and keep a journal
When the founder of Seek A Therapy 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. Clinically assessed at suicidal risk. He now 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. Expect your loved one to be quite irritable at times. When this happens the best thing you can do is not try to cheer them up. 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.
Understand, healing takes time. There is no set time when depression is reduced or gone, it will help you prepare for the long haul.
Let them know you will be there along their journey with them. This will provide comfort and strength for when they are trying hard to change and occasionally have setbacks.
18. Each person’s cure for depression will be different
Each depressed person becomes depressed for a very personal reason to them. That also means that the cure for depression will be different too.
Taking a tablet, although helpful in the early stages, will not get to the root cause of the problem.
It will help in bringing back some serotonin and endorphins in the brain but more needs to be done. You really do have to identify the root cause of their depression.
19. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Learning To Be Patient
Be patient. As it takes time to heal, 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 and frustration.
Try your best not to insult the person you care for. They are trying their hardest to recover, insulting will only damage progress made and possibly the relationship between you both.
21. Support Them In Finding The Right Therapy
My experience of the public support to mental health is that they offer limited services to healing depression. Things are starting to improve, slowly, but there are many alternative and private therapies available. Therapy such as CBT, EFT, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, talking therapies, art therapy and many many more.
Finding the right kind of therapy for you is vital as different therapies will work better for different people. It depends on your beliefs, cultures and reasons for your illness which one will be most suited to you.
22. Stay In Contact
If you don’t live with your loved one let them know you are thinking about them. Send a text, a thoughtful small gift or a phone call. This way they know you care and also, so that they know that they have you to look to should they need help.
23. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Setting 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 one. You have to take each step as a time.
For example, the founder when ill, didn’t go out much. His first goal was to start going for walks. Longer and longer ones, which eventually talk him walking miles after only a month of undergoing this goal.
Next, he decided upon another goal. He decided to improve his general fitness. And another, he also decided to find a job ANYWHERE in the world. This led to him getting a job. But before he got to that goal, he had a long road to recovery. It took approx 8 months to get to this stage.
Healing depression takes time. The rewards at the end of the tunnel can be worth it. Truth be known , the feeling of satisfaction and completion is a big part of it. When you have been through a very hard time, it 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 often not the cure. They are a tool to help rebalance an unbalanced brain. When a person becomes severely depressed they loose their natural ‘happy hormones’. This is one of the fundamental aspects that antidepressants help stimulate.
It could be said that they don’t really deal with the root cause of the depression or anxiety. Really, there needs to be extra therapy undertaken in order to understand the illness in order 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. They can give knowledge and real tools that can aid your loved one along their journey.
25. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Watching 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 film on of their favourite comedian can sometimes raise a smile. This 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. It also provides a distraction to how they are truly feeling.
26. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Giving 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, a hug can improve the way anyone feels.
27. Support A Person Who Has Depression By Being 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 too. Listening to a person talk about problems all the time is draining so it’s important you take self care. If you are a sensitive person, it could drag you into depression also.
Make sure to take time to enjoy what you love to do. This will recharge your energy levels and positive attitude that a depressed person needs.
Do you have any other suggestions to how you can help support a person with depression?