Depression is a disorder that affects millions of people. While we all experience ups and downs, depression is different. Often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, it affects day-to-day activities and impairs one’s ability to enjoy life.
There are several paths on the road to recovery from depression, including self-help groups, therapists, medications, or social support. Each person’s path to recovery is different and specific to his or her needs.
While some may believe that isolation is an easier way to deal with depression, it only makes it worse. Cultivating supportive relationships can play a big role in making depression more manageable. However, it is often difficult for individuals dealing with depression to reach out to others for support.
If an individual has reached out to you for support during his or her depressive episode, you may feel a great deal of responsibility. Supporting someone dealing with depression can be hard. It takes a lot of time and energy and if you are not careful to take care of yourself, it can be easy to cross the line of support and become engulfed in the depressed person’s problems. This can leave the supporter feeling, among other things, exhausted, frustrated, and angry.
Helping Someone with Depression
Below are a few points to consider when supporting someone dealing with depression.
1. You can’t fix it.
As supportive friends and family we often want to make things better. It is important to remember that depression is individualized; while some symptoms are alike, they affect each individual differently. Each individual has to find his or her own way to manage and eventually recover from his or her depression. Several treatment methods may have to be tried before a successful one is found. Your role to be patient and supportive. It is important to remember that recovery is not immediate — it is a process. Recovery ultimately is up to the individual.
2. Set boundaries.
You can only do so much. You can be supportive, encourage positive activities, provide assistance, or help in whatever way possible, but you are not the therapist. You can only assist in helping those who want to help themselves. Set clear limits on what you can do, as well as what you are willing to do, and stick with them. If you let the individual’s depression take over your life, it will ultimately lead to burnout, leaving you unable to be supportive at all.
3. Don’t be ashamed of feeling anger, guilt or fear.
Anger, guilt and fear are all common feelings. Anger may come from not knowing how to deal with the individual or not being able to “fix” their problems. Supporters often feel that we should know the answer, forgetting that the individual has to work through a process to find the root cause(s) for his or her depression.
We sometimes feel guilt when we ponder “should’ve, could’ve, would’ves.” You may find yourself saying “I should’ve known something wasn’t right” or “I could’ve suggested getting help earlier” or “if I would’ve known the signs things could be different.” The important thing to remember is that you are not working to find what you could have done differently, but how to help the individual move forward from where he or she is.
Fear often is felt when facing the uncertainty of the individual’s outcome. It is important to see that the individual ultimately controls his or her own outcome. Your support is there to be an aid, not to determine how, when, or if they recover.
4. Take care of you.
Supporting others can easily turn into a full-time job. Don’t let it. The reality is if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t care for someone else. Encourage the individual to join you in activities you enjoy when it is appropriate. If he or she is not willing, do the activities alone or find a friend. Don’t neglect the activities you enjoy or feel guilty for enjoying them. Find time for mental breaks. Go for walks, watch TV, read a book, take a relaxing bath, or engage in your favorite hobby.
5. Find a support network.
Sometimes being a supporter of an individual dealing with depression can make you feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. You may find talking about feelings related to your role to be healthy. Finding a healthy support network can be beneficial. Look for local support groups, gather frequently with supportive friends, or seek a therapist. Talking with someone does not mean you have to betray the confidence of the individual or spend all of your time “gossiping” about their issues. You can take this opportunity to talk openly and honestly about your feelings and your emotions. Discuss the struggles in your journey of being a supporter and seek positive and encouraging feedback when needed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that one of the most beautiful compensations in life is that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Your role of a supporter is an important one. Make sure you are maintaining a healthy balance between being a supporter and being you. Consider completing a daily check-in. Take time to ask questions like “did I take a moment to enjoy something today?” or “am I taking care of myself?” It is essential to take the best care of yourself in order to provide the best for those you care about.