How to help a loved one through depression

Talking to depressed people can be really depressing!
They can be so negative, they can bat away helpful suggestions or complements or comforting words, and be so dismissive when you try to help them.

But one of the most important things to remember?

  • They don’t expect you to solve it all or cure them.
  • They don’t always need you to come up with a solution.
  • If the solution was that simple they would likely have figured it out by themselves already.
  • Sometimes they just want someone to listen, to really listen and maybe say ‘I’m sorry life is so hard right now.’

Some other things to remember are:

They are having a way worse time than you and chances are they’ve been trying to hide it for a really long time. The negativity they’ve divulged to you, is probably just skimming the surface of the negative self talk that they have going on in their head.

The ‘inconvenience’ of them offloading on you, may mean the world to them, be generous with your time, you don’t have to agree with them or always know what to say. Be real with them: you are not God, you are not their therapist, just a fellow human being trying to make their way in the world. That’s all they are asking you to be.

Let them find their own ways of coping. They have a right to choose to take or refuse medication, seek alternative remedies or even focus on a more spiritual healing. Unless you see evidence of them being a direct threat to themselves or others, you have no obligation to intervene: they may have lost some part of themselves to their mental illness but they are an individual, who have their own voice and their own path to forge, you don’t have to treat them like a child.

It feels like advice falls on deaf ears because depression puts up barriers that sometimes block basic logic (just remember some people stop washing, brushing their teeth, eating- things that they’ve been able to do since they were small children!). Sometimes a person’s pain becomes more comforting, more secure than taking the first scary steps to recovery. Have faith that they will find their way back to health! Sometimes the best way to encourage some one is to lead by example, to show by doing, rather than preaching.

Don’t give up on them. The support that you give to someone when they are down or at their most vulnerable will earn you the greatest respect. People don’t forget that kind of love and when they feel strong enough to help others, they pass it on to the next person and the world becomes a better place.

They are not contagious. So they might bring you down for a few minutes, but you don’t have to take on their bleak view of the world nor are they asking you to. Learn how to put up enough shields to protect yourself but above all be genuine. You can learn to recognise when its the real them or the illness talking, entrust that what they are saying is so very real to them so indulge them as much as you can.

Don’t, in turn, expect your positive energy to be contagious for them! Of course exercise, silliness and something fun can be a great tonic or distraction, but an overly sunny disposition and a barrage of positive quotes can become sickly and adds insult to injury.

Depression makes people isolate themselves which can often make them worse, but sometimes the mask that people have to wear to socialise and function in their every day lives becomes too heavy to bare and so they hide themselves away. Don’t take it personally if they want to socialise less or don’t take you up on your offers of doing stuff together.
Whether they cancel on you once or refuse to come out with you 50 times, please don’t give up on them. The one time that they do say yes might do them the world of good and give them a real boost that they can build upon. Their illness might make them a less reliable friend but it doesn’t mean that they don’t love and value you.

Help them to be as kind to themselves as you are to them. Self kindness can be the key to getting someone out of their destructive/unhelpful cycles and give them a new perspective. Remind them what a good person they are, they won’t always see it but it might help them be a bit less harsh on themselves.

Don’t expect them to be the same person that they were before. They may well become stronger, better and brighter than they were before, but by dwelling on the past instead of looking to the future you enable their own self loathing and frustrations which could be detrimental to both of you, and your friendship.

Remember that the roles could easily be reversed, statistically you could just as easily be affected by ill mental health, depression is one of those illnesses that is not picky!

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