Depression is So Complicated and It’s Hard to Know How to Help
Depression is a tough thing to share with someone, especially if you really want to help them. It is a“whole body, mind and person” condition that can interfere with every aspect of a person’s life.
We all know what it feel like to be down, bummed out, and low. Sometimes we call that “feeling depressed.”
But I’m talking about an illness also called depression. The difference is that the illness of depression has symptoms, a whole list of them. When a person’s depression is mild, it usually responds to care and time, but it can also grow into depressions that are moderate and severe. As a friend, you may be confused about what to do to help.
Learn about it.
People have a lot of screwy ideas about mental illness, or they feel helpless to understand. So, it’s good to know what you and your friend are up against. I’m not going to repeat a list you can get on a website. Instead, I’m going to group problems together in ways that may affect you.
- Depression sucks the energy and enthusiasm out of a person. All of a sudden your friend doesn’t want to do things you’ve both enjoyed. They’ve lose their “juice.” Fun is like a foreign language.
- Depression changes the way people think. They feel like they can’t put ideas together. It’s as if words don’t work. This is often embarrassing and they retreat.
- Depression changes the way people feel. They are down on themselves, see the future negatively. They don’t believe in change. They cry frequently. They sleep.
- Depression changes the way people connect. Even an outgoing funny guy can become distant, You might feel like you’re intruding on him. They can’t carry on conversations well, so they protectively withdraw. This makes for so many uncomfortable times with them, with your other friends and families.
- At its worst, depression steals hope. The future is bleak, They may think about what it would be like to end their lives.I have heard it said they are “just trying to get attention.” That diminishes the pain that your friend is in and if they are craving attention, they’re really craving help.
What can you do to help?
This is a tough one, with lots of suggestions and maybe only one or two that “work.”
- Realize the difference between helping and saving. You can do the first, you’ll go down with the ship if you’re set on the second. I’m a psychologist and a depression sufferer, and it was a lesson I had to learn.
- Be realistic about what you can do. You can listen without throwing out lots of advice. You can share what you have learned.
- You can help by helping them get help. Maybe you have energy to research people and places where she could see a mental health professional.
- When it is hard for the depression sufferer to make a connection, maybe you could go to the first session. I’ve done that with several people in my practice.
- You can help by doing. Making food, dealing with the dog, figuring how to help at work. In school you might get assignments, help them figure our how to deal with professors and grades. You don’t need to push things on them, but you might say,”No big deal,” and then bring it up again.
What can’t you do?
You can’t carry your friend on your back. You have to discover what you can do and what you cant without sacrificing your self.
- Don’t confuse your affection and concern as demands to always be there. There are people to share those burdens.
- Don’t keep secrets. Depression can make people who used to love their lives, feel like they can’t keep living. Their thoughts, ideas, fantasies and plans have to be dealt with by professionals. You can get them to help, but never make promises that you can’t and shouldn’t keep.
- Don’t stop taking care of yourself. Having a close relationship with a depressed person is a relentless burden. You have to have spaces in your life that energize you, that give you pleasure and joy.
The thing that sounds so simple, but is so important”
Just Be With Them
In a book called At Home Through The Fields, there is a simple story that is embedded in my brain as I try to help people in pain.
A king had three sons. He didn’t know which son should inherit the kingdom. He stood at the start of a long, rugged, rocky road.
He turned to the oldest and said, “Son, shorten the road for me.” The son looked at him like he was nuts and shrugged. The same with the second son.
Then, discouraged, he turned to his youngest boy. “Son, shorten the road for me.” The son took a step or two and began to tell his fathers stories as they walked and walked and finally returned to the castle.
The son knew the he couldn’t stand still. He couldn’t carry his father. He couldn’t perform some magic to make the road shorter.
But he could be with him, as a companion on the journey, not taking on too much, but giving enough.
Even when we sit in silence with someone, it is the greatest gift one friend can give another.
Dr. Martha Manning is a writer and clinical psychologist, author of Undercurrents and Chasing Grace. Depression sufferer. Mother. Growing older under protesthttps://medium.com/@manningmartha4