I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2010. Since then, the days have been up and down. Sometimes I felt I had regained all my strength and control over the random neural firings in my brain; other times I felt like I was tumbling down with an avalanche and then trapped under 50ft of snow.
Chance brought me here, where I hit upon the article on stupid things one could say to a depressed person. Going through the comments, the demand was for what then, could we say to or do with a depressed person? Originally published on my own humble blog, the below are 10 things one could say to or do with a depressed person from my own experience, which I hope, could answer the demand.
“I am here for you, whenever you want.”
I felt like I had someone to hold on to, even though I had no strength or desire to talk to anyone. The thought of a friend who would not forsake me, reassured me that I was loved despite my destitute circumstances.
“Hey! Did you see the latest App / read the news about X funny incident?”
Instead of asking “How are you?”, to which the response would inevitably be “Sh!t” from me, one of my friends simply sent me a message every day to talk about irrelevant topics. Modern technology definitely made it easy and inexpensive. Even though this had nothing to do with my health or depression, these quips distracted me from my consistent drone of crying bouts and stimulated my curiosity to poke my head from under the covers.
Just lie with me when I cry
My husband just lay beside me when I sprawled out on the living room carpet wailing, crying, and choking. He brought me tissue paper, and hugged me. He did not ask me why, or tell me not to cry. He just sat there with me. Then I got tired from crying and fell asleep, and when I woke up, I felt an increment of release and comfort.
“I cannot necessarily agree or understand how you feel, but I respect this is your perspective and your emotions”
My thoughts were undoubtedly irrational in my worst depressive episodes. I lamented about life and complained about every menial aspect. I had no confidence in myself despite my so-called achievements. I had no hope. Every day I told my husband there was no point in living, work sucks, I hated myself, and I would prefer to rot at home instead of go do some exercise.
In the beginning, my husband tried to reason with me, and gave me evidence how living could be meaningful, how I could help others, how I could change jobs, and how my worries were exaggerated. He tried to paint the comparative picture for me that I had a blessed life and many things for which to be thankful — I had a counter argument for every point he raised. It deflated him, and made me feel worse and guilty.
Eventually he realized that when I was spiraling in my thoughts, reasoning with me was not going to help. I was not looking for a debate. What I needed was empathy, or at least sympathy – and reassurance that it was fine to feel the sadness and frustrations I felt. It was key that I could embrace my emotions and not feel guilty for feeling them. Only by acknowledging my emotions could I then decipher my thoughts behind them and find ways to cope with the emotions.
“I cannot see the man but I believe you can see him”
I had illusions of a man dressed in a black cape and hat spying on me. I also saw ghost children running around on top of cars. I was convinced I spoke to Angel Gabriel as he visited me in the bathtub and I kept waiting for Elijah’s fire chariots, staring out the window for ages. No one else could see them. The temptation for anyone not suffering from a mental health problem was to discount him or her and tell me they were not there. Whether they are there or not was not the point. Trying to get me to question my visions made me feel worse about myself. Plus, who was to judge and say for sure spirits do or do not exist?
Whereas, if you affirmed my belief, even though you might not be able to see the same things as I did, it could help me trust you, and that you would not ridicule me. It would help me talk about what was going through my head. Only through opening up could I get better.
“Can I do anything for you? Do you want some water? Honey lemon? Soup? Chicken wings?”
Usually my response was “No.” Nevertheless it made me cared for, and on the rare occasions it awoken my appetite and I would munch on something. It meant a lot if you put it in context that I had lost all interest in food and about 20kgs in weight over the period. I did not have enough nutrition in the body and hence no vigor to do anything. Getting me to eat was an achievement, which steered me towards getting stronger. You could stimulate interest by prodding questions. Every little mutter you get in response is an improvement.
“Shall we take Floppie to play?”
This might be particular to me. I had a Gund Snuffles bear that became my companion and my solace. To lure me outside for a walk, for at times I would stay indoors for 10 days straight, my husband used something that was dear to me to attract me. He suggested taking Floppie to the park, or to take pictures in the snow. This sparked off some motivation in me to throw on some old clothes and go outdoors for a while. Going out then added to the chain effect, and combined with the little things above, encouraged me to open up and seek help.
In the same way, maybe you could invite your friend for a game of basketball, chess, badminton, hike, movie, cooking, or whatever their hobbies were. You might need to keep inviting them for depression makes one lethargic and unmotivated, and most people lose interest in activities with which they were engrossed previously.
When I did not admit I was stressed / was depressed, and refused to go to see a psychologist:
My denial period was umm, ultra long. Even when the psychologist told me “you are severely depressed and need to put you on anti-depressants” I refused to see I had a problem. Without admitting there was a problem, then of course I did not seek to resolve it. My husband had an advantage in that he lived with me, and he physically dragged me out the door, into a taxi, and escorted me to the shrink’s office and made sure I stayed there. He also forced the medication down my throat by administering them every day.
However, this becomes difficult if you do not have that authority over the person suffering. In some cases, the authority and forcefulness could backfire and make the patient retreat even further into his or her shell. In those cases, I suggest leaving the option to him/her. You could provide them with the resources on where to seek help, but the decision lies with them.
In the event you think they are going to harm themselves, my suggestion is to reach out to the local counselors or suicide prevention centers closest to you. Most of them have hotlines to call and they could give more concrete advice depending on the situation and the behaviour you observe of your friend. My husband called a local hotline without me knowing in the prelude to my downward spiral when he suspected suicidal tendencies, and the experts told him what signs to look for and what to do – which was to accompany me at all times possible back then.
Most of the time, not saying anything was the best thing for me. I just needed a brain dump. I just needed someone to listen without judging or recommending solutions. I just needed to know someone was there and would not make me feel guilty for feeling bad about myself.
Just a cuddle, a bear hug, and sit next to me. It was soothing and calmed me down. Made me feel loved even though I basked in self-hatred.
What to say or to do is specific to each person, but this could give a general guideline. The key is to let the depressed person feel that there are people around them who love them, and who are trying to understand them.