Here is your official run down on what to do when you don’t know what to do when you’ve encountered a friend or loved one struggling with depression. These are pivotal moments in a person’s life so having the right support and the right approach can be monumental.
Just listening can provide a volume of healing that the most profound advice can’t equate to. Genuine listening says, I hear you. I’m with you. I may not completely know what you’re going through but I want to understand you.
Non-judgmentally means having compassion from one broken human to another broken human. It’s not self-righteous and doesn’t make an assumed judgment on a person’s character or faith just because they have hit a low point in their life. No one is immune from the human experience. It doesn’t say, you need help. It says we’re in this together and I want to be a part of your recovery.
There is a very real spiritual resistance that accompanies depression. Shame and low esteem have built a divide from God. It’s very easy for your faith to get clouded when your thinking is bombarded with doubt. When they can’t find the strength, pray together.
Be ready to be patient.
Depression isn’t something you just snap out of. If it was that easy, no one would be depressed. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance. Sometimes it’s a result of trauma. There are many causes of depression that aren’t self-created so it’s bigger than being self-undone. Don’t pressure them to recover overnight. Be ready to take on a patient mentality because recovery is a process. It’s a process that requires developing new healthy coping mechanisms and rethinking the way you’ve thought for a long time.
Do not belittle their feelings.
The first thing to understand about depression is that it’s not your regular sadness. It’s not like getting the blues and shaking it off. Actual depression takes away a persons drive, their usual interests, energy and can be quite numbing. Sometimes you can’t even explain what’s happening, because it has drawn you to a place where you’re just not thinking like yourself.
Not experiencing the level of what another person is feeling never grants the right to make self-centered opinions. You cannot judge where they are based on where you are. Not only is it inconsiderate but it’s ignorant.
Practice empathy instead of sympathy.
Most people can’t comprehend the difference, but it does make a difference. Sympathy comes from a place of sorrow. It’s the attitude of, I’m sorry for you, which creates a divide between okay-me and struggling-you. It creates a subtle distance.
Empathy enters the shoes of the other person and says I’m with you. It understands. It goes back to that one-broken-human to another-broken-human. It mourns together. It carries the burden together. Practice empathy over sympathy.
Pay attention and provide accountable feedback.
This is a big one because it could literally save a person’s life. When stuck in depression you just know you’re struggling. It’s difficult to observe how deep you’re struggling, at what level you’re not yourself or how often destructive patterns are repeating themselves.
It’s okay to be the friend or loved one that says, “I noticed you haven’t been eating a lot lately or you seem a bit down lately. More than usual. Is everything okay? How long have you been feeling this way?” Then based off of your observations advise them to talk to someone, get help or go with them.
This really plays a big role if they have suicidal thinking tendencies. It doesn’t hurt to ask, “Have you been experiencing any suicidal thoughts lately?” A lot of times we tip toe around the question because we’re afraid it will trigger more destructive thinking or might get too heavy. But the truth is if they do confess that they’ve been feeling suicidal, not only can it bring a relief to the isolated tension by talking about it but it could save a life when prompting them to get help at the right time.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Challenge without being pushy.
There’s a difference between bossing someone to do things they just don’t have the desire to do and encouraging them to take one step at a time toward recovery (or again doing it together). Whether that be recommending spending a little bit more time outside or even a simple, “Why don’t you try writing again today? I know that usually makes you feel better. It’s worth a try right?” It’s helpful when another person can pull you out of yourself when you don’t have the motivation to do so yourself.
Never underestimate positive regard.
A depressed mind is usually hyper-focused on the negativities of life, themselves and the future. But hope goes a long way. Make the most of available moments to point out something positive. Not over the top to the point that it’s fake, but genuinely great moments and attributes just to help shift and balance their perspective. Be the one that encourages healthy behavior!
“I saw that you posted a blog today. I know it’s been hard for you to write lately so I think it’s awesome that you went for it. It was a good read and I feel like you’re doing better.”
The more you know, the more you can help and the more you can help, the more genuinely useful you can become in these situations. Depression does not discriminate against gender, race, age or religion. It can happen to anyone. It’s happening all around us and many of us either aren’t aware that it’s happening or don’t know what to do when we’ve encountered it. You are bound to encounter depression with someone you know in your lifetime. So if you want to be helpful learn more about the signs to look out for and the various resources you can turn to- whether that be at church, in the community or via lifeline. You can find a few resources here on my post about serious signs of depression.
Resource: Online Counseling & Therapy
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