I loved James Bishop’s suggestions of ways to support someone struggling with depression. You can’t go wrong if you follow his directions. Here’s four ways to to address the topic of depression with loved ones.
1. Be On Their Side
The depressed person will often be defensive, so an accusatory tone isn’t helpful. Instead, try to convey a sense of understanding. It isn’t helpful to say “Why can’t you just get out of bed?” Instead try, “You seem to have trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. What can I do to help you in this area?”
The person may have lost perspective on how big a problem this actually is. They will find it hard to hear that what is insurmountable for them is actually not such a big deal. It is unhelpful to say, “What’s your problem? You’re upset about nothing.” Instead try “You seem to be finding this issue a big deal at the moment. Can we solve it together?”
When I was very sick, I often thought my wife was trying to ruin my life. To counter that kind of thinking she would sometimes say, “We are a team. I’m on your side.”
Depression is an awful illness, a whole world away from pure sympathy-seeking. So you should treat it as such by saying things like, “I trust you. If you had a choice in the matter you wouldn’t choose to have depression. How about we search for some solutions together?”
2. Give Plenty of Reassurance
Many people suffering with depression feel unworthy of being loved. You need to reassure them frequently. For example “I love you for who you are. I’m not going to leave you.”
In a similar vein, they may have lost the ability to recognize their positive attributes. You might reaffirm them by saying something like, “You’re a sensitive person who cares for others” or, “People really love you a lot. They think you’re a great person.”
If said repeatedly and with absolute sincerity then it may also be helpful to say, “If you ever need a friend, I am here.”
3. Give Understanding and Sympathy
People with depression can spend a lot of time ruminating on their situation and feeling sorry for themselves. Pointing it out to them is not helpful. Instead, try to sympathize by saying something like:
“I can’t imagine how hard it is for you, but you have all my sympathy.”
“All I want to do is give you a hug and a shoulder to cry on.”
“I can’t honestly say that I know how you feel, but I want to help in any way I can.”
4. Offer to Help
“Let me do anything you need me to do to help.”
If you ask, “What is the best thing I can do to help you right now?” don’t be offended if the reply is “Leave me alone.” Sometimes, that is the most helpful thing you can do at present.
Well meaning people often attempt to fix the problem. They may say something like, “Have you tried aromatherapy? There was an article about it in the paper…” This kind of comment can come across as trivializing the illness. If you want to introduce a treatment idea, make sure you are respectful about the seriousness of depression. Perhaps you can say something like, “It’s important that you stay on your medication and keep seeing your doctor. I’ve found some information on aromatherapy. Would you like to look into it with me?”
While it’s important to accept the person in the state they are in, don’t let it totally consume your life. Otherwise, you’ll fall in a heap and won’t be much help to anyone. You need to take care of yourself. Ensure that you maintain healthy boundaries: “I’m committed to you and to helping you. But I also need to eat / shop / go out for coffee / ring a friend / see a movie to recharge my batteries. Then I can look after you better.”
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Sep 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Borchard, T. (2012). 4 Ways to Support Someone With Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/09/18/4-ways-to-support-someone-with-depression/