Supporting a Person Suffering from Depression

If you’d like to read part 1, click here for how to deal with depression personally. Now, what if you have a loved one or a friend who is suffering from depression? We know at times it can be frustrating to see someone we know and care about going through this struggle — mainly because we don’t want to see our loved ones in pain, but also because it can be tough at times to put our own needs and emotions aside to provide the appropriate support for them. The question here is — how can we effectively be supportive and nurturing to someone suffering from depression?

1. Acceptance

A frustrating part of going through a struggle with depression is when people minimize or discount it as laziness or something that’s more easily controllable. Being able to show a person you accept their struggle and be there for them without judgment is highly valuable for effective support.

2. Listen

A person dealing with depression often doesn’t feel that people care, which can cause them to emotionally shut down. Showing them you want to be there for them, even just by listening, shows someone that you do care about what they’re going through, and can help build an alliance and trust.

3. Push, but lightly and cautiously

The lack of motivation can be frustrating for both the person going through the depression and also for the people around them. It’s okay to help to push someone forward, but monitor the difference between offering a hand and forcing someone to go where they’re clearly not ready to go. This gentle push can be into therapy if needed, or it can be to go outside and go out to lunch, or just to take a shower, etc. Be on their side and work as a team.

4. Give Space

This is a complicated one to judge at times. We don’t want to see someone wallowing in depressive symptoms, however we also don’t want to overwhelm them to go forward too fast. So while it’s okay to push gently, as suggested above, at times it’s important to give space in order to not overwhelm someone emotionally. When a person wants space, it’s often because they are becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Basically, pushing and giving space is a constant see-saw act, and part of the struggle and frustration for others is the, at times, stress of managing which is appropriate in which moment. If you know your loved one well, the hope is that the cues of which way to go will be visible to you. For example — signs of energy can show a push may be accepted; or signs of irritability may show some space is necessary.

5. Psychotherapy

Especially if dealing with a close loved one suffering from depression (i.e. partner, immediate family) where we are constantly involved, it could be very helpful to have psychotherapy of our own. When a person is depressed, if often compromises their ability to fully be supportive or others and often increases our own need of outside support. Psychotherapy could be helpful for personal support, but also for processing the expected and occasional frustrations of dealing with the depression of a loved one. Having psychotherapy can provide this outlet, and also help prevent arguments and battles from any emotions that may build up. Psychotherapy can also be helpful as a tool for us to provide better support for our loved one.

6. Unconditional Love and Support

One of the best ways we can be supportive is by showing our loved one that we love and support them unconditionally. Nobody chooses depression, and it’s part of the symptoms to not be motivated or desire to move forward at times. Most people suffering from depression want to feel well and happy and motivated to enjoy their lives more. Showing our loved ones judgment or irritation will only lead to them feeling that we can’t be trusted to be supportive as an ally — it normally won’t create the wake-up call we hope for.

As discussed in part 1, depression is caused by both life events and/or biochemistry. However, a large component to chronic depression is the feeling and perception of being alone — that nobody loves or supports us, and we can’t trust anyone will be there for us when we need. And also it’s important to know that these perceptions and feelings have most likely been this way for a long time. (The same suggestions above apply for acute depression as well). While our unconditional love and support may not fully cure our loved one, the hope is to create an environment where they will be able to trust that we are there with them, and that with us beside them they will feel comfortable and supported to start moving forward.

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