Your loved one is in a dark place. Depression wants him or her to stay there.
Be gentle. Carefully avoid saying the following things that might exacerbate his or her emotional pain:
“I know how you feel.”
Unless you really have wrestled with clinical depression, it’s best to stay away from this attempt at comfort. It ends up feeling more like a minimisation of the very real, dark place in which your loved one lives. Say instead that you don’t blame him or her for feeling the way he or she does, and simply be there for support.
“It could be worse.”
Actually no, it couldn’t. Not in the mind of your loved one. For him or her, this feels like the bottom. They are in a mental black hole, and can’t get out — let alone see the deeper holes of others. He or she hurts badly and needs you to be there to listen, and affirm this pain is something real and difficult.
“Get over it.”
Depression isn’t a choice, a matter of will, or a sign of weakness. It’s tempting to revert to “tough love,” when you see how depression is frustrating and devastating your loved one’s life. You just want him or her to “snap out of it”, or “pull it together”. And they would, if they could. Instead, be gentle and affirm your faith in their efforts.
Truthfully, if your loved one could override his or her depressive thoughts with positive thinking, he or she would have probably done it by now. The grip of a mood disorder is not easily fought with happy thoughts.
“Try this, go here, do that.”
You want your loved one to feel better. You may have read a book, tried a class, or taken a trip the last time you felt down. You think this might help your depressed friend or family member, so you share. As well intentioned as your advice is, this only serves to advance the idea that depression is a choice. Instead, encourage your partner or relative, by acknowledging how hard it is for them to do anything. Understanding their low energy and withdrawal will help him or her to feel more understood, and less isolated.
“Stay away from pills and professionals.”
The stigma of mental health care may lead you to advise your loved one against beneficial therapies. Please try to keep an open mind. Do some research, and consider how your loved one could be served by an expert. The perception that counselling and appropriate medication are a never-ending cycle is a false one. Help your loved find a care professional soon. The goal is to get your loved one as much support as possible.
“Your depression is ruining our relationship.”
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by your loved one’s depression. Try to keep in mind that depression isn’t an attempt to manipulate you or gain attention. Self-care for you is extremely important, as you try to manage your relationship. It helps you maintain perspective, and mitigate any unintentional conflict that might shame or pressure your loved one, and add fuel to their depressive thoughts and withdrawal.
Loving someone with depression is difficult and delicate work. Low energy, dark moods, and loneliness can easily characterize your relationship, if you’re not careful.
Learn as much as you can about depression, to maintain the proper perspective, and offer the best support. Do your best to love your friend or family member unconditionally. Reassure your loved one that you are there, and want to help him or her seek assistance and healing.
If you are struggling to support someone with depression, or think they may benefit from counselling for depression, call Neil Ward Counselling on 07970 860 711.