It is no secret that I have had problems with my mental health from a young age. Today, I am very open with my friends and family regarding my emotional state. But that wasn’t always the way. In my late teens, I spent a whole year locked in my bedroom refusing to talk to any of my friends, such was the hold depression had on me. My family had no idea how to cope with it. Mental health and depression were not the open subjects of conversation that they are today. If only my parents had had some support, they may have coped with the situation better. As it was, there was no one they could turn to, and they suffered in silence. If someone you love is suffering from depression, there are many ways in which you can help them, and yourself.
Asking some simple questions may help start a conversation. You could try something like, “I’ve been concerned about you recently as you seem a bit down. How are you doing?”. And if the person wants to talk about it, you can slowly start getting them to open up by asking things like, “How long have you been feeling like this?”, or even, “have you thought about getting some help?”. There are certain ways to talk to somebody with depression, and it may be hard to understand what they are going through if you have never experienced it yourself. You can offer love and support, telling them you are there for them. Never say things like, “just snap out of it”, or my favourite which I heard many times, “this is all in your head”. Depression is very real.
Offer encouragement to get help. Getting a loved one or a friend to visit a mental health specialist may be difficult. You could always suggest they write down how they are feeling and make an appointment to see a G.P. first. If a doctor does indeed diagnose depression, they will refer them to a specialist. This is where you come in. You can offer to attend the meeting with them if they are feeling apprehensive. People suffering from depression may lack motivation, and not want to make or attend appointments. Having a loved one by their side might make all the difference.
Once someone is receiving professional help, they will need more support than ever. Have realistic expectations, recovery from depression can be a long and winding road. Suggest gentle activities to get them out of the house, going for a walk for example. Do not be discouraged by a negative response, gently keep asking. You may even offer to help with things they find difficult, like shopping or household chores. But do not take on too much responsibility, you don’t want to end up exhausted and not be able to offer support.
This leads me on to my last few words of advice when helping someone you love deal with depression. Take care of yourself. Living with someone with depression is no easy task. Any one of my ex-partners will testify to that. If someone’s mental health is affecting you, gently let that person know. In a relationship honest communication is key. Any built-up resentment will only have a negative effect. And set some healthy boundaries. You are not anyone’s therapist. You cannot be there for someone twenty-four hours a day, you have your own life to lead. Set clear limits for yourself as to what it is you are prepared to do, and what you aren’t. And finally, seek support yourself. I can’t imagine what my parents went through as they watched someone they love totally withdraw from the world in front of their eyes. Find a support group, talk to a family member or a friend. You don’t need to go into detail or betray any confidence, just concentrate on how the situation is affecting you, and how you would like some support yourself.
By taking care of yourself, you will be able to give the best support possible. At times it might feel overwhelming, but don’t give up on someone with depression. Love and kindness can save lives. I can tell you that much from personal experience.
If you know someone dealing with depression, The Richmond Foundation is there to help.