There are many blogs and articles on what to say and do when a loved one has depression. It’s a minefield. As individual as grains of sand on a beach, how a person with depression will respond to loved ones trying to help cannot be known. To the family members watching a loved one suffer, and feeling completely incapable of supporting and reaching in to the void, it often feels hopeless. Maybe you want to shake them out of it? Maybe you want to pep them up and tell them to get out into the sunshine?
I’ve been thinking about this all this morning. I don’t have advice. Not really. I’ve fallen out with family during very bad bouts of depression. I’ve become someone I don’t recognise more than once. But years on, I think my family and I have more of an understanding of this illness. And there are things we do and don’t do that help.
I don’t really talk all that much about how I’m feeling, other than a brief, “not so great” or “having a bad day”. Not because I don’t want to talk to my family, but because I don’t want to weigh them down, and sometimes my thoughts and feelings might worry them more than necessary. So I tend to talk to other sufferers. People who might understand a little, but who are also separate enough from my family to know that random thoughts and feelings are part and parcel of the illness, and that they aren’t necessarily as bad as they sound. Because depression, you know, makes the worst of things, even in the best of times. To an outsider this may seem a bit “misery loves company”, and it might seem like a bad idea to surround yourself with other sufferers, but only the person with depression can really know whether it is helping or not.
I try to remember that while depression is a mental illness, it is also a physical illness. We wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to “snap out of it”. We wouldn’t suggest someone with cancer “stop dwelling on it”. As much as we want a period of depression to go, it isn’t going to go simply by wishing it away or thinking happy thoughts.
Some things do help, and have helped me. Good home cooked meals. Maybe a hand with the housework. The odd trip out can be great, if there are not going to be stress adding factors (like for me, facing crowds at times can be horrendous.) No pressure, no expectations as to what the depression sufferer will or will not be able to put up with. You might get somewhere, and they feel like they can’t go any further. They aren’t doing it to test or piss you off. In a way, they are showing you more trust than anyone else, in being able to be real in front of you, and to not wear a mask to hide their true feelings (again, maybe that’s just me!) If you are going to be impatient, or intolerant, it will come across to the super sensitive depressed loved one. And then they will feel worse for having failed to live up to your expectations (or maybe that’s just me).
Physical activity can be great, and for me, running has helped a great deal, but it didn’t defeat depression altogether. As soon as the marathon was finished I had an appointment with the dr, and am now on duloxetine. I have also now been put on the waiting list for CBT one to one therapy, and have been given an emotional wellness manual to work through.
I have a positive relationship with my doctor, and I know I can go when I need to, but not everyone has that positive relationship with their doctor, and in the vulnerability of depression it can feel like wasting the doctors time going back more than once or twice. But depression is a complicated bugger, and sometimes it needs several visits to the doctor to find a way that will help get out. Anti depressants are a delicate thing, and what helps one person will do sod all for another. If your loved one is able to talk to you about depression, and you are worried they are not getting the medical support, then maybe ask what might help? Would a second opinion help? What they like some company to the doctors so they have some support to say what they feel?
But above all, just let them know you are there. Because knowing that, without pressure, or judgement, can sometimes be enough to keep on going.