To those who are caring or involved with someone who has depression, life can be almost as heartbreaking for you as it is for them. More often than not, you find yourself spinning because you have no idea how to help yet want to dreadfully, and you wish you could just understand what to do to make things change. Realize that those two things are completely normal to feel. However, neither are easy to achieve. And so, when it comes to cases of depression, focusing on the small things you can do is far more beneficial.
In this case, there are many do’s and don’ts that will help with that. Each one requires patience, love, and above all else, realizing that while you may be able to alleviate their worries, you are not solely responsible for how their situation pans out. That is not within your control. Nor is it your place.
Your place is to be the reassuring ear to bend, the shoulder to cry on, and the constant friend they need. If you think you can do that and want to know how to do it well, then please read through these listed points in order to help begin the process.
1. When they’re in a bad headspace, don’t start giving them advice.
As much as it may confuse you, when a person with depression is admitting to you they’re at their lowest, the last thing they need to hear is you offer pearls of wisdom. Believe it or not, they already know how to make things better (in essence), but at that moment in time, they do not feel it is possible for them to achieve. For whatever reason, they feel that they have put out enough, received too little in return, and have therefore had enough. They do not have the strength right now to get back up and start fighting. So let them be.
Realize that being upset is actually as normal as being happy. There is no point in attempting to stop them from feeling this way. They need to let it out. Then, once they have paused for long enough and recharged their batteries, they will return, ready to hear your advice.
2. If they’re telling you they can’t take it right now, listen to them and don’t judge.
Judgment can come in the form of something as big as an outburst or as small as a disgruntled sigh. Neither of these responses will prove helpful for either you or them. As much as you may not understand how they feel and are utterly frustrated by their sadness, they are also feeling exactly the same way. Know that the last thing they wish to do is to upset you, but if you keep pushing them to “buck up,” they just might say something they regret.
All they want is to know you’re there for them, and by that, they don’t mean as someone to cling onto. In fact, they’d rather you just go about your day as normal so that they can gather peace of mind. But when they are ready to openly talk about what is troubling them, they just need to know that they can trust you enough to listen. That’s all.
3. Don’t get offended by their distance.
What to you seems cold, to them is self-preservation. Any form of affection is going to unleash a swarm of emotions that makes them feel vulnerable, and when they are trying to stop feeling sad, the last thing they want is for you to show too much care.
It almost sounds paradoxical, I know. But the reason I say this is because when you show freedom to express your emotions so well, it makes them feel angrier at themselves for being unable to reciprocate it the way you deserve. All they want to do is be happy and show you love, but they know the price they pay for that is drowning under the weight of their heavy emotions, and they don’t want that.
So instead, take the little things that they offer as a sign that they care deeply for you. Sitting next to you, contacting you before anyone else, making you your favourite meal, buying you little treats, remembering special dates and helping you when you need it are all signs of this. They may not tell you they love you in so many words, but their supportive actions will show it.
4. Accept that they cannot control how they feel.
Trust me when I say they hate feeling this way. There is nothing fun about being imprisoned by your own troubled mind. But as much as you may think it’s a case of mind over matter, sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way, and feelings can account for a lot of our realities.
When it comes to depression, there is no quick fix. You cannot put a bandage over it and make the tears stop falling. In reality, having depression is like having a scar that constantly threatens to reopen. At any given moment, the scar will tear open and the wound will feel just as sore as it did when it was first created. Even worse than this, though, it may feel deeper each time because of the constant reopening. Therefore, it is more than expected for the sufferer to sometimes feel incredibly frustrated and despondent.
Imagine how you’d feel if you had a wound that wouldn’t heal. Sure, sometimes you would tolerate bandaging it up for the 50th time and carry on with your day. But other times, you’d just get sick to death of it. You’d think, “For fuck’s sake, why do I have to keep dealing with this?!” and you’d throw the bandage roll on the floor and feel so angry at your situation that you’d just want to sit and cry. And that frustration would be normal to feel, wouldn’t it?
No one can control that annoyance. Nor should anyone attempt to stop you feeling it. Bottling up anger only serves to spill out later on — the same applies to depression. So next time you want to stop someone from feeling sad, remember that scene.
5. Exhibiting a comparison game will only make them more upset.
You may think it helpful to put their troubles in perspective with another’s, but this is actually pretty detrimental. Much like casting judgement, comparing your experiences or someone else’s is basically like saying their woes are petty and therefore don’t count. It’s like removing someone’s free will — you simply can’t do that.
No matter how big or small, if it upsets them, it upsets them. Plus there’s usually a reason it makes them feel this way. So, instead of trying to strike a comparison, attempt to work out the reason behind their emotions on this subject. If you know them as well as you claim, then you should realize they wouldn’t do this lightly.
6. The little things you do will make the biggest difference.
In spite of how often they spend feeling low, people with depression actually crave happiness. They want to be able to learn and know how to be free again. Swimming in the depths is hardly the place they want to be. However, in order to get them to rise from the bottom, you have to dig deep to gauge their interest.
It’s not always an easy thing to do, as they can often appear disinterested at your initial attempts. But, if you know them well enough, or at least, if you try to find out what makes them tick, you’ll be more successful in achieving a positive reaction. Remember, they are no different from you. They are still a person made up of many facets beyond their sadness. So if you want to make them feel happier, you’d be best to engage with what those facets are.
For example, if they like a certain genre of movie, bring some DVDs over that you think they’d enjoy watching and make a night of it. If they express themselves creatively, admire what they do. However, only do this if you genuinely mean it, because if you don’t, they will pick up on the fact that you’re just saying it to make them “feel better” and you’ll swiftly revert things back to square one.
Another thing: discuss topics which involve no emotion. Discussing subjects that interest them without eliciting any reminders of their current state of mind will help take them out of that dark place. You’ll see a side of them you may not have witnessed in a long time, and they will feel lighter for being able to revel in something novel for a change. It may seem small to you, but that’s where the biggest changes are made. Instill enough of these positive actions in your relationship and you might just start seeing a big difference in their mindset.
Just like the acorn grows into the mighty oak, helping someone recover from depression starts with the little things. In time, things will get easier. As long as you can provide this mental stability, there is no reason why they shouldn’t feel stronger and more able to tackle the obstacles they face head-on. And of course, looking after your own wellbeing is important, too. As much as you may want the best for the one you love, you can only do that if you feel strong enough to do so. So take care of yourself.
Just remember, all you need to do to make this change possible is to be a good friend. Not a savior, not a miracle-worker – just a kind, thoughtful and loving friend.