Make sure your words and actions help, not harm
Depression affects more than 20 million Americans every year. Here’s what you need to know if one of that number is someone you love:
Depression is not a choice. People who are depressed sometimes feel sad, sometimes feel empty and sometimes feel nothing at all. They can feel paralyzed and unable to do the things they once loved. Depression is not just a bad day or a bad mood. And it’s not something a person chooses.
They may push you away before they can pull you closer. People who suffer from depression often feel like they’re a burden. This causes them to isolate themselves and push away people they need the most. If your loved one tries to distance himself, let him know you’re still there, but don’t try to force him to talk about it.
Saying “it’ll get better,” “you just need to get out of the house” or “everything will be OK” doesn’t help. You may believe you’re helping a depressed loved one feel better, but these phrases come across as empty, patronizing and insulting. And though you mean well, these words only make them feel worse. A hug can do more than a cliché. What you can say: I’m here for you. I believe in you. What can I do to help you? What do you think would make you feel better?
They can become overwhelmed easily. Just getting through the day can be exhausting for someone suffering from depression. This might make him cancel plans or skip out on activities. It’s a side effect of the disease.
You’re allowed to be frustrated. Just because your spouse is depressed, that doesn’t mean you have to cater to all of his or her needs. Offer love and support, but if their behavior impacts you negatively, say so. Then try to find ways to show support without sacrificing yourself. When things are at their most frustrating, take a step back and look at how you can help the depressed person while maintaining your own sense of happiness.
Tough love doesn’t work. Telling someone you’re going to walk if she doesn’t get better won’t cure her of depression. In fact tough love is unrealistic and manipulative.
Don’t minimize their pain. It’s tempting to share stories to let a depressed loved one know you’ve gone through something similar and understand her struggle. What you’re really doing is suppressing her feelings. What she really needs is for you to listen to her.
Don’t equate depression with weakness. Some of the most powerful and creative people—journalist Mike Wallace, singer Billy Joel, Princess Diana—have experienced depression. Keep in mind that depression doesn’t discriminate, affecting young and old, rich and poor, men and women, and people of all ethnicities. Experiencing it doesn’t make someone flawed or inadequate.
Know that it’s not about you. It can be difficult to understand what someone who is depressed is going through, and you might think it’s a reflection of your relationship with them. If her becomes distant or needs space, don’t wonder what you did to cause their depression. Understand their illness is not about you