Stop saying bullshit! That was the title of this article when I first tried writing it a few months ago. I am glad I did not write it, it would have been a very bad one. Supporting someone through depression is not an easy task.
- Depression is an umbrella term that we use in today’s vocabulary, it can mean that we just had a bad day or something more complex and not summarizable in one sentence. So without knowing what exactly the person is going through, it is very easy to give them the wrong advice
- People going through depression can be very irritable and can be difficult to approach.
- There can be a tendency to be reclusive and cut down contacts when you are trying to help.
- It can be so hard to realize a loved one is going through depression because people can go out of their way to show that they are doing okay.
I have always wondered why people were telling me the wrong things and used to strongly believe that if I ever had to support someone through it I would do a very good job of it. But now that the tables have turned, I realize how challenging a task that is! I have found myself saying unhelpful things and trying to problem solve when all they might be looking for is a person listening to them without judgment. A few months ago I started a local depression support group, it was an impulsive decision, which in general is the story of my life. Maybe some of you remember, since I wrote about it back then, you can read it here.
Luckily now I have two co-organizers and we try our best to fight our impulse to overwhelm people with suggestions and advice and we encourage each other to pause and think about how the things we say can have an effect on the person. Supporting is not a substitute for therapy or medication but it can do wonders in the recovery journey of a person. We have been discussing things that have helped all of us in our recovery journey and the following things come up very often.
Ways to help
- It is not about us, it is not that WE should help them, it is that they should get help in any possible way. So if our role involves guiding them to someone else, please do not hesitate. This involves recommending them to consult a therapist or reaching for emergency services if the situation demands it. Their health is the priority here. Period.
- Sometimes help is letting them vent.
- Hugs- This is not universal. Not everyone wants to be touched. So talk to them and see if they would like that. I for one would have really liked to be hugged a lot more.
- Try to be kinder than you have to be- Because a person might seem completely fine on the outside but we can never know what is going on inside them if they don’t want us to know.
- Try not to assume that you know what they are feeling- Every person is different and there might be a lot of reasons contributing to the depression that they are experiencing, so phrases like ‘I know exactly how you are feeling’ might not be of help
- Ask them questions- This is very helpful. We all have that instinct to problem solve and a depressed person get offered a lot of suggestions on a daily basis which might not be always helpful. Asking questions show that you care and you are taking the time to know what they are going through. But, it doesn’t mean to overwhelm them with harmful ‘Why are depressed?’ sort of questions but questions like How are you today? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been eating well etc
- Ask them ” How can I help? ” “Would it help if we did XYZ?”
- Even the smallest of tasks can be overwhelming to a person going through depression, this is an area where we can help a lot. It may be trying to help find a therapist, helping them shop for groceries or cleaning up their apartment.
- Cooking a healthy meal for them- Chances are the person is skipping meals or eating unhealthy food so it might make them feel good to have a wholesome meal once in a while.
- Helping them sort out their finances- This is another tricky area. Depression can mess up one’s finances big time. It might be an are where you could help a lot as well. This does not mean to give them money but if the person is not in a position to work and is in a financially difficult situation you can try to find help from local mental health charities.
- Give them time- Recovery looks different for different people. One of the worst feelings I had in my recovery was to see the supporters losing faith and growing impatient.
- Please refrain from telling them to ” jog or meditate and then you will be fine- Physical activities like jogging or swimming can, without doubt, help a person stay mentally healthy but let them take it at their own pace, you can start by encouraging short outdoor walks or activities that do not require so much energy and help them stick with it.
- Different things work for different people- propose things taking this into account, I am an introverted person so the cheering up plans most of my friends used to suggest, like going out to parties was not very helpful.
- Make sure they are going to the therapy appointments and taking medication if they have to, maybe offer to accompany them if they find it helpful
- Don’t be hard on yourself- Your health is also important and we can all make mistakes, there are no quick fixes or magical words that can cure depression in one day, so when you don’t exactly know what to say, don’t panic. We have all been there. Please don’t stop helping someone because you once said a wrong thing.
- It is not the time to preach the need for gratitude or for tough love. In detail here
- Take good care of yourself- It is difficult to see your loved one in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it, it isn’t your fault.
What are some of the things that have helped you?