When depression hits someone you love, the natural inclination is to try to fix them. However, unlike an injury or other obvious infirmity, depression is largely invisible. Often, it isn’t obvious what we can do to help. Here are some suggestions.
There is a wealth of material online about depression – what it is and what it isn’t. The first step is learning about the condition and the treatments available. Even if you’ve suffered from the illness, all of our experiences are somewhat different, and you may be surprised at what is available. You can’t count on your particular remedy being broadly applicable.
This learning will also expose you to many resources – some of which you may be able to recommend if asked.
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Offer help directly
It’s easy to assume that a loved one “just knows” you are there to lend a hand. But for many reasons, they may not ask you. You should bridge that gap and offer help and support directly. And you should keep the offer open and repeat it without being pushy.
Don’t mistake advice for help. Let your loved one guide you. So, instead of suggesting a medication or a doctor as a “cure-all,” it’s better to give an open-ended offer, “Tell me what I can do to help out.” You may find that listening is what they want most, or help with daily chores, or any of a number of small things. Try to get them to participate, even if it isn’t at a normal level.
Express yourself positively
Sometimes, those in depression lose the ability to see anything positive in their lives. A complement from you or a reminder of the good things around them will help. This shouldn’t be fake or false hope, rather, it should be a recognition of those things deserving thanks and appreciation.
This includes reminding them that you care and value the relationship. Let them know you aren’t going to give up on them and will suffer being rebuffed – after all, withdrawal is a part of the disease.
We motivate by showing and doing. One thing that works in your favor is that depression can take away someone’s ability to make decisions. This gives you a chance to lead when appropriate. You can take the lead without being too aggressive, but don’t give them an “easy out.” This means showing up in person instead of phoning and emailing when you want to get them out – it’s harder to decline if you are already there, ready to go.
Do what you can to get them outside and active. Find something to get them away from their hideout. This can be a shopping trip, bowling, a night out to dinner and the movies –whatever will get them moving and away from the norm. Exercise is excellent; an offer of a walk in the sunlight can work wonders. Gardening is great in season, and being active is much better than a passive activity.
Although professional intervention may be best for the depressed person, caregivers can take advantage of this themselves. If possible, discuss the matter with a professional and get their advice. A depression that is repeated or extended is a medical matter and a mental illness. You may end up encouraging them to see someone. If it plays out that way, offer to go with them for moral support.
Some estimate that only about 60% of the depressed get the care they need. By maintaining a connection and providing support, if the time comes to broach the subject, it is much more likely you will be listened to.