A Note From The Editor: Depression is a real, far-reaching struggle that we shouldn’t take an apathetic stance on, but instead learn how to better support caregivers and sufferers alike. Today’s article, the third post in the Myths & Meanings series, details how we can healthily bear the weight of a loved one’s depression while not pointing blame at ourselves or at others. It’s a necessary step in pushing back the darkness to let in the light.
MYTH: If I have never struggled with depression, I cannot be a positive support to my loved one/friend with clinical depression.
MEANING: There is nothing more healing then when one feels seen and understood. The beautiful power of empathy lies in connecting to emotions, not actual experiences. Everyone has felt loss, sadness, out of control, alone, misunderstood, afraid, anger, etc. While the actual circumstances which bring up these emotions may be extremely different, it is still possible to connect with how a loved one is feeling in order to bridge understanding. Accessing those negative emotions to connect with a friend is a brave choice and demonstrates value and respect for the deep emotions we all feel as part of being humans, ones who love and desire belonging.
While the actual circumstances which bring up these emotions may be extremely different, it is still possible to connect with how a loved one is feeling in order to bridge understanding.
When a loved one is in the intensity of depression’s pain, it’s easy to feel at a loss on what to do. The following are some helpful approaches to support a loved one who is dealing with clinical depression and/or related mood conditions. Remember: the responsibility of recovery ultimately falls with the person struggling.
- Acknowledge that you see your friend is struggling. Be gentle and specific with what changes you have noticed while stating your love and concern. You do not need to fix your friend or over explain your concern. Even if efforts are rebuffed, trust they are noticed.
- Do your research on depression. Share with your friend that depression is not their fault, but a complex biological and chemical issue that can be fueled by struggles with family of origin, culture, stress, trauma and loss.
- Suggest seeing a therapist who has expertise in dealing with depression and mood issues. If you are on university setting, wellness centers offer brief counseling and connect individuals to long term resources in the community, if needed. Many work settings offer health insurance: HMO, PPO and EAP plans (Employee Assisted Programs). For those who do not have insurance, many therapists in the local community offer sliding scale options. Faith communities are becoming more supportive of mental health struggles and are also offering support groups and lay counseling options.
- Navigating how to find the right support can be overwhelming when depressed. Offering to help a friend explore insurance or other support options along with finding a good fit may be very helpful. It is up to the person to show up and do the work, though. You can help gather resources but, ultimately, it is the other person’s recovery. When they are ready, they will go.
- Loved ones and those with clinical depression need to remember that finding the right treatment team and best fit of support options may take some time, so do not take it personally if your support is not received right away. Patience and perseverance are important as everyone is ready for treatment at different times; the timing of seeing the positive impact of treatment may vary from person to person.
Myth: Depression does not impact me or my life, so it really is not important for me to learn more about it.
MEANING: For many, it feels like no one understands what it’s like to be depressed. Individuals who do not have experience with depression may find themselves uncomfortable with what they don’t know. Yet, because clinical mood conditions can impact so many in our country (and around the world), it is should be everyone’s responsibility to become better educated on the issue. This will help to alleviate stigma and enable more to freely express a need for help.
There are several free resources available via the internet that offer a lot of information about and support for depression. They can provide local resources for those living in the United States:
- National Alliance of Mental Illness
- To Write Love On Her Arms
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.TALK
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- National Institute of Mental Health
- American Association of Children and Adolescent Society
- National Partnership for Workplace Mental Health
- The Jed Foundation – A college-age focused resource
- Half of Us
- Families for Depression Awareness
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
- American Psychological Association
Myth: If my friend/loved one is not doing well in their recovery from depression, it is my fault because I have not not done enough.
MEANING: Treating depression can be an emotional marathon, not only for the person in recovery but also for those who care about the person struggling. There are times of crisis when safety is of imminent concern and everyone needs to rally to make sure their loved one stays safe. But the day to day grind of recovery can be taxing for all involved.
It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel selfish or ashamed for living their own life — even enjoying it — when a loved one is hurting. It is important in these moments to not to lose sight of whose recovery it is. When lapses occur or depression seems to be keeping a loved one stuck, it’s easy to over function (work harder than the person is working on their recovery) and over accommodate (always adapt schedules, needs, communication to meet the other person’s needs at the expense of your own well-being) which can fuel frustration or a feeling of being burnt out.
Caregivers, friends and loved ones need to have their own self-care plan. When possible, work with other friends and family members to take turns being on point. It is important to set boundaries and limits on availability, while also letting the treatment team be a source of support. Caring for a friend and oneself is a delicate balance, especially when concerns are high for someone you care about deeply. Never forget that by simply showing up for a friend during difficult times, you will demonstrate your care and that their life matters.
If you missed other posts in this series, you can find them here.
Image via Sara Tasker