Supporting A Loved One Who Struggles With Depression

Depression is among the mood disorder subgroup of mental health diagnoses and is characterized by persistent sadness, helplessness and feelings of worthlessness. It’s no dramatic fabrication or case of the “blues”-persistent depression is hell on earth for people who know it well. While depression is known best to the person experiencing it, seeing a loved one through it is also tremendously difficult. Below are some practical ways to support your loved one diagnosed with depression.

Let go of cheering him or her up

When we see a friend or family member suffer, a well-intentioned response can include finding “happy” distractions for her with hopes of optimism rubbing off. One of the clinical criteria for depression is a decreased or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. As difficult as it is, a truly depressed person is not readily or even capable of being “cheered up” by something that once made him tick. In the same way you wouldn’t force an injured track runner into the 400 meter dash after injury, don’t force a depressed person into a hobby or interest that once inspired them- it’s like salt in the wound. Even more so, it’s not the kind of help he or she needs. Proper psychopharmacological (i.e. medication) can help elevate mood some as can regular psychotherapy- encourage adherence to either or both.

Movement can help

A common characteristic of depression includes sedentary behaviors. Sometimes, this means an inability to complete common “activities of daily living” (or ‘ADL’s’ as they are sometimes referred). A supporter does well to encourage movement- this may be physical exercise if your loved one is willing- (i.e. simple stretches, short walks down the street or to the mailbox) but more commonly it’s movement from one task to another. For a depressed person, simply getting out of bed is a tremendous accomplishment! You can encourage completing small, simple tasks. For example: “You think you have it in you to do one more load of laundry? I don’t think it will take long. Here, I’ll do it with you.”

Get comfortable with silence

Unless someone experiences mania (periods of hyperactivity) alongside her depressive episodes (full diagnosis called BiPolar Disorder), it’s more common for a depressed person to be quiet and withdrawn. The non-judgmental presence of a caring person is worth a million conversations. Be quiet, available and steady. Incessant chatter and questions can overwhelm a depressed person.

Tap into your more gracious self

It’s been said before that relationships are rarely 50%/50%. One some days, for example, you might give 80% to your spouse because he’s only capable of giving 20%. On other days, he might give 70% because 30% is all you have after a sleep deprived, overwhelming night. You get the idea. Keep this in mind when you come alongside your depressed loved one. He or she just isn’t capable of “giving” much. You may have to step up and take care of more than you’d like. Be in tune with your own emotions- if you sense in yourself resentment and bitterness, find a professional with whom you can share your experiences. Furthermore, don’t develop a “savior complex” as this is disastrous in the long haul. Remember: you aren’t a saint, but you are a committed, loving support person. Keep your own boundaries and ego in check.

Be observant

Quite simply, depression is serious stuff. If it seems your loved one has taken a turn for the worst and is making statements like, “You would be better off without me” or “I wish I wasn’t here” seek hospitalization or at the very least, a professional assessment. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide should never be taken lightly.

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