What to Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed
by Nancy Schimelpfening, About.com
While putting together this [About.com] site, I've approached it from the point of view of a recovering depressed person. As a result, I've overlooked some very important people who are suffering right along with us--our friends, family, and loved ones. This was brought to my attention not only by reader feedback, but also by my own experiences. As I've begun to get my depression under control, I've attempted to extend a hand to others. I've been met with reactions ranging from hope to resignation to hostility. When I've come upon individuals who aren't yet ready to come to terms with their illness, I've been forced to walk away. This has disturbed me greatly. If it's so painful and frustrating to not be able to help a nameless, faceless stranger, how must it feel to live day-to-day with someone who's depressed? We depressives can be downright frustrating. We see everything in absolute terms, no gray areas. We set high standards for ourselves and when they aren't met, we can't accept it. We lash out at our loved ones. We're too wrapped up in our own pain to nurture our loved ones. We may have additional problems like OCD, ADD, or BPD. We may cut ourselves, eat too much, or use drugs and alcohol to take away the pain. We beat ourselves up endlessly because we think we think we're ugly, unlovable, lazy, and worthless. I'm writing this as someone who's been on both sides of the fence and can now appreciate the pain of both the depressed and the people who seek to help the depressed. If you care about someone who's depressed, here are some suggestions for what you can do to help them.
1. Educate yourself. There are countless sites on the Internet where you can learn about depression, it's symptoms, and treatment. My Depression FAQ is an excellent starting place. Learn about informed consent and the legal aspects of treatment in your state. Read up on disability law as it applies to the mentally ill.
2. Put yourself in their shoes. Learn what depression feels like, the misconceptions about mental illness that they must deal with, and get the facts about what depression really is.
3. Take care of yourself. Feelings of depression are contagious. Periodically take some time to step back from the situation and recharge your batteries.
4. It's okay to feel upset, angry, frustrated. These feelings are a valid response to a very trying situation. Join a support group, talk with a close friend, or see a therapist. The important thing is vent your frustrations rather than allowing them to build up inside.
5. Be there for them. Give them a shoulder to cry on or just listen while they spill out their hearts to you. Be patient with them. Let them know that you care. Share the things you've learned while researching depression. Let them know it's not their fault, that they're not weak or worthless.
6. Remember that the depressed person's behavior isn't indicative of the "real" person. The depressed person has impaired social skills. They may be withdrawn and shy or sullen and angry. When the depressed person lashes out in anger, it's because they're actually angry with themselves and the way they feel. You just happen to be there. When your spouse or significant other doesn't feel like having sex, don't take it personally. Loss of sex drive is a classic symptom of depression. It doesn't mean they don't love you.
7. Depressed people aren't lazy. They're ill. Everyday activities like cleaning house, paying bills, or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming to them. You may have to take up the slack for them for awhile. Just like if they had the flu, they simply don't feel up to it.
8. Medications and therapy are crucial to their recovery. Help keep them on track with treatment. Help to ease their fears about treatment by letting them know that they're not crazy.
9. Offer hope in whatever form they will accept it. This could be their faith in God, their love of their children, or anything else that makes them want to go on living. Find what works best for them and remind them of it whenever they're not sure they can hang on any longer. If they're suicidal, you may need to seek immediate help. There are some very valuable suicide resources on the Internet that will help you to help your loved cope with suicidal feelings as well.
10. Love them unconditionally and let me know it's their illness you're frustrated with, not them.