Till the Night Ends
How to Help Someone with Depression
My name is Stephen, and I have depression. Double depression, to be exact, along with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I've lived with these illnesses for the majority of my life. I sought help and to help.
Most of us, regardless of our social class or ethnic background know someone with depression. They are our friends, our families, and our coworkers. It's difficult to know exactly how to help, but there's hope!
I worked in residential care for three years, studied depression in college, and lived it out on a very personal level. Now, I want to share some of the successful ways they helped me, as well as the ones that I used to help others. Let's jump in!
Ears to Hear
The first tidbit of information you need to understand is that your advice doesn't mean anything if you aren't listening. How are you even to know what to say if you haven't taken the time to hear the thoughts and struggles that you're trying to redirect?
People with depression often need listeners far more than they need advice. In fact, I often found that I contained all the answers to solving my problems, I merely needed to talk them out so I could process them.
When I worked in residential, I was among the most successful caregivers because I was able to listen well and invest the time to build trust. The more I listened, the more I understood and was able to pinpoint errors my students had in their perspectives of themselves. The more I listened, the more they felt heard and could trust me. By the time I had something to say, they often had it figured out or at least were able to hear me and follow through.
Seeing and Empathizing
Depression can lie to us, make us want to hide, even when we really just want to be seen. Truly seen. You don't need to experience depression to care for someone with it, but you do need empathy, even if you can't quite grasp their mindset. Remember, Depression is what they have. It's not who they are.
In my struggles, I never trusted anyone who said: "I understand." How can you? How can you feel what I feel or think what I think when you aren't me? Depression can trick us into believing that we are alone in our struggles, and for someone to say they understand can feel degrading.
I learned that empathizing is best expressed in telling someone that what they are feeling is valid. Because it is. All emotion is valid, even if the logic is not.
When my students shared their depression and thought struggles, I found that they best responded when I would state things like "that sounds difficult," or "I'd imagine that that is very difficult." I didn't patronize, I recognized the struggle, and I met them where they are at. It doesn't matter that I might have experienced worse, they were experiencing their experienced threshold of pain and I needed to recognize that.
Physical activity proves itself, again and again, to be extremely helpful in curbing depression. I started working out in the mornings and going on walks daily. These activities affect the body in a significant way including changing hormones and helping us to process life. My happiness level has shot up drastically since my applying physical actions to my life.
I lost weight and thus gained more energy, leaving me feeling so much better about my body. Furthermore, I established higher self-esteem due to the feeling of accomplishment that I've acquired from completing my fitness goals!
It can be difficult to get your friend or family member to get physical, so here is a suggestion. Whenever you offer to talk, or your friend expresses the desire to open up, just start the conversation with "Let's go for a walk and talk about it." I find that the focus falls on the talking and not the walking. The moment offers the fulfillment of a need to be heard, as well as fosters relationships. This will most often override any aversion to being physical that the individual might have (or think they have).
You can also just ask them if there is something they might enjoy doing like bowling, kayaking, etc. Sometimes just having someone to do stuff with can be the motivation that we need to get off our butts and go!
This is extremely vital to achieving success in your endeavors to help others with depression. You must set healthy boundaries!
This means guarding your time, and theirs. Don't make them talk every day, all day, or any combination of the two. And don't let them do it either! They need to respect that you have a life that isn't revolving around them, and vice-versa. They may have a lot to say, but it doesn't have to all be done in one sitting.
Also, don't invalidate an issue that they keep repeating. Sometimes, a single issue can sit in the mind has to be continually talked out to achieve closure or complete the processing.
Remember that you can't save them. It is also not your responsibility to make them happy. You can't make them happy.
We are all responsible for our own happiness. That doesn't mean we can't help or seek help. It means that we need to keep ourselves from falling into a co-dependent relationship; relying too heavily on others to feel good about ourselves or relying on helping others to achieve a sense of worth. If you find yourself needing to help a certain person, or if your mood is directly affected by theirs, then it's time to take a step back.
As Maya Angelou once said, "Never trust a naked man who offers you his shirt. No one can love you properly unless they first learn to love themselves."
Remember to care for your own mental and physical needs before trying to help someone work out theirs. They matter, but gosh-darn-it so do you!
I hope you find this information helpful as you seek to walk through life with others, and maybe even work on your own struggles as well!