Reaching out to Help a Loved One, While Taking Care of Yourself
When a loved one suffers from depression, your support and encouragement can play an important part in his or her recovery. However, depression can also drain you and wear you down if you don't take care of yourself in the process.
As you watch your loved one struggle, it may cause you to feel any number of emotions, including frustration, anger, helplessness and fear, to guilt and sadness. All of these feelings are normal, so do not become discouraged. It is not easy dealing with another person's depression, so it's vital that you continue to take care of yourself. You are not being selfishness to think of your own needs and emotional health--it's a necessity! You cannot help someone else if you are run down, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Remember how the airline flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you assist anyone else. In other words, make sure your own health and well-being are solid before you try to help someone who is depressed. You won’t do your loved one any good if you are struggling physically, emotionally, or spiritually. When your own needs are met, you’ll have the strength you need to help those you love.
I am not a doctor or counselor, but I have experienced depression from both sides of the well. Through my own personal experience and what I've learned about depression, I'd like to offer you some practical tips that may help when handing someone with depression.
Helping a Friend or Loved One
*Don't underestimate the seriousness of depression and assume your loved one will be fine. Depression, in my opinion, is far more than a disease or some type of mental illness, and it did far more than simply hurt. Depression was devastating and debilitating, it crippled my mind, heart, spirit and soul, and destroyed every part of me. When I was going through depression, my husband didn't understand so he thought I'd be fine and would tell me to "just get over it." Telling someone it's "All in your head," or "Look on the bright side," or "Snap out of it." will not help. Your loved one can't just "snap out of it" by choosing to just get better.
*What you can say that may help is: "You are not alone, I'm here for you." "I don't understand how you are feeling, but I care about you and what to help." "You are important to me, tell me how I can help you."
*Don't ask generalized questions like, "How are you feeling?" and "Is everything ok?" These questions are too vague and will only lead to vague responses. Ask open-ended questions that will require more than a one word response. Instead, ask questions like, "When did you begin feeling this way?" "Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?" "How can I best support your right now?"
*Avoid Common Communication Barriers. Don't say things like, "You're not thinking clearly," If you'll calm down, I'll listen to you," "Stop talking nonsense, get that thought out of your head," "Why don't you..." or "Why did you do that?" These kinds of comments tend to shutdown communication.
When talking with someone about their depression, remember being supportive is about offering encouragement and hope.
*Be a good listener. Be patient, listen attentively, and when responding don't judge or criticize how the person feels. Being a compassionate listener is far more important than giving good advise. You don't have to try and "fix" your loved one, just be a good listener. So often, just having someone to talk with about how he or she is feeling can be a wonderful encouragement and help to someone battling depression.
*Watch for changes in behavior. Take note if your loved one exhibits any change in sleep patterns, loss or gain of appetite, withdraws from friends or activities he or she once enjoyed, turns to drugs or alcohol, anything that is completely out of the norm for him or her.
*Don't take it personally. Depression makes it difficult for a person to connect on an emotional level with anyone, even the people he or she loves most. Depressed people often withdraw, or say hurtful things and lash out in anger. Your loved one may, at times, push you away or say things that are cruel. Remember this is a symptom of the depression, not your loved one, so be understanding and try not to take it personally.
*Seek Support. Depression is overwhelming for everyone involved. Join a support group or a bible study. Talk to a counselor, a pastor, or confide in a trusted friend who can help you get through this difficult time. You don't need to go into detail or betray a confidence; rather focus on your emotions and how you are feeling.
*Know When to Get Help. There is no shame in seeking professional help. Visit our referral page to find information on various organizations and support groups.
*Hold onto Faith: And above all, don't lose hope. Your loved one is encouraged best when those around him or her remain hopeful. Stay focused on Jesus and remain connected to Him through His Word and Spirit. Assure your loved one of God's love for him or her personally. Read Scripture aloud and play worship music in your home to help keep a positive atmosphere.
*If the depression worsens and you feel there is a risk of suicide, don't panic and get help immediately.
What to do in a Crisis Situation
If you believe your loved one is at an immediate risk for suicide, do NOT leave the person alone.