I’ve been focusing my posts on my own experience with depression because I believe it’s important for others to know what we are and are not thinking when we are very depressed. But, it’s also important to educate others in how to respond to a loved one in the midst of a major depressive episode.
So, what should you do? Let me answer that question with another question. How would you respond to someone who just had major surgery? “But that’s different,” you might say. And I would come back at you with, “not really.” When someone has surgery, they are tired and exhausted, sometimes need help doing routine tasks, feel lonely because they are not able to be with coworkers and friends, can feel sluggish, and just not want to do much of anything.
Those are all things someone in a depressive episode experiences. Remember, it is a disease, a real illness. It needs to be treated as one.
So, now I’ll ask a different question. How could you respond to someone with depression? I’m guessing you might have come up with some of the following as possibilities.
Call, email or text the person and just say “Hi!” You might have to leave a message because they are probably isolating (I was a QUEEN of isolating!) but leave the message anyhow…and point out that they need to reach out and you are there for them. It can be hard when the person with depression doesn’t respond, but don’t let that stop you from doing the same thing the next time.
If you are a coworker, bring them lunch or dinner if they are missing work because of their depression. Even if you aren’t a coworker, do it anyway. You would likely do this for the person that had surgery, why not your friend with depression? When I missed three months of work due to my depression, I do not recall one person doing this for me. I did have a meal with a couple of friends, but that was at my initiation.
Give a day and time that you will come over and help clean. If you end up doing most of the work, do it anyway. It is not uncommon for the person with depression to not pick up after themselves. We aren’t being lazy…we really just do not have the energy. We may have used all we had just getting out of bed. Throughout my years of depression, I have struggled to maintain an orderly place. This has kept me from having people over and being more social. Since I’ve had a case worker helping with this, it has motivated me to do more things on a regular basis. If someone had asked if they could come over and help, I would have thanked them and turned down their invitation. Don’t ask…just do it.
Send a card or stop by with flowers. Everyone likes cards and flowers. They are a simple reminder that you are thinking about the other person. Imagine being out of work with an illness for three months and NOT getting a card or flowers. It’s a pretty lonely feeling.
Maybe you have wanted to do some of the above for a friend or family member with depression but hesitated because you just didn’t know what to discuss while with the person. Here are a few guidelines.
First and foremost, if you’ve never been as depressed as the other person, convey your lack of fully understanding what the person feels. Nothing minimizes a person’s experience like hearing, “I know how you feel” or “things can’t be that bad.” Admit to what you don’t know. It will go a long way.
If you want to make a suggestion, or offer advice based on something you read about depression, make sure you preface your comment with that bit of information. If you suggest exercise, offer to go for a walk with the person.
Avoid trying to give advice of what worked for you when you were feeling ‘down.’ A couple of memorial pieces of advice I’ve received in the past included, “just get up and go to work and you’ll feel better” and “if you would clean your apartment you would feel better.” If I had felt well enough, I would have gone to work or already cleaned my apartment. I was beyond the point where these would have helped me.
Just meet the person where they are in their depression and you’ll be fine.
I nearly forgot to mention probably the biggest suggestion: HUGS!
Give hugs as often as possible.
I hope this will help you to feel more comfortable reaching out to your friend or family member the next time they are experiencing a major episode of depression. It’s already a lonely ‘place’ to be but with your love and understanding, it just might bring healing faster.
I’ve also mentioned a few Do’s and Don’ts in my previous Mental Health Awareness post. If you haven’t read that already, I encourage you to head over now.