What is Depression and How Do I Cope With It?
When you know that someone that love dearly is suffering from depression, it’s hard to know how to help, or if you should even bother trying. Your support and encouragement, hard as it may be to provide, is incredibly important to helping your loved one with depression.
While sadness is a normal part of the human experience – we all feel sad some of the time as a natural result of grief, loss, isolation, loneliness, or other psychologically painful life events. Sadness is natural. However, when sadness becomes more than feeling blue for a lot longer, it can become Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
Major Depressive Disorder (also known as recurrent depressive disorder, clinical depression, or unipolar depression) is a form of depression that is characterized by an all-encompassing depressed mood and/or decreased interest in pleasurable activities nearly every day for at least two weeks. Visit here to read more about Major Depressive Disorder.
A word of caution: depression can easily wear you down if you don’t tend to your own needs. And if you’re worn down, you will be of no help to your loved one. Here are some tips for helping a loved one with depression.
Coping When You Are Depressed:
Depression drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better. But while overcoming depression isn’t quick or easy, it’s far from impossible. You can’t just will yourself to “snap out of it,” but you do have more control than you realize—even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent. The key is to start small and build from there. Feeling better takes time, but you can get there by making positive choices for yourself each day.
Dealing with depression requires action, but taking action when you’re depressed can be hard. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like exercising or spending time with friends, can seem exhausting or impossible to put into action.
It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There is a big difference, however, between something that’s difficult and something that’s impossible. You may not have much energy, but by drawing on all your reserves, you should have enough to take a walk around the block or pick up the phone to call a loved one.
Taking the first step is always the hardest. But going for a walk or getting up and dancing to your favorite music, for example, is something you can do right now. And it can substantially boost your mood and energy for several hours—long enough to put a second recovery step into action, such as preparing a mood-boosting meal or arranging to meet an old friend. By taking the following small but positive steps day by day, you’ll soon soon lift the heavy fog of depression and find yourself feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful again.
If you’re dealing with major depression, helping yourself may feel like a gigantic, insurmountable feat. When getting out of bed in the morning is a victory, you know it’s time to get some real help for your depression . . . but how?
Here are some tips for helping yourself if you have major depression.
Do not wait until your depression is “bad enough” to seek help. The longer you wait, the more agony you’re putting yourself through. Any depression is bad enough to seek help. If you don’t know where to find help, start with your general doctor, or the campus health or counseling center. They should be able to help you get to the right place.
Set small realistic goals for yourself, and when you meet them, celebrate.
Break down big tasks into smaller, bite-sized ones that can be completed more easily. That will help to see how you can best manage your priorities.
Try (this may sound ridiculously hard) to get active. Exercise. The chemicals you release when you work out can really boost your mood.
Try for 8 hours of sleep a night. Depression usually comes with sleep issues (too much or too little) which can make your mood suffer. Try to get a better night’s sleep more consistently.
Get some sunlight and fresh air every day.
Reduce stress. No matter how you do it, let some of it go. Stress can impede depression treatment and actually TRIGGER depression. Find what works for you and do it.
Even if it sounds like a horrible idea, try to set aside some time for activities you used to like. Go to a movie with friends. Go out to dinner. Do something.
Don’t isolate yourself (even though it’s really tempting). Let people in and let people you trust know that you are struggling.
Let other people help you. You may have to ask for the help, but know that it is not the burden you feel it is. That’s the depression talking.
The depression has some really nasty things to say sometimes. Try and tune that mean voice out and remember that you are worth it. You really are.
Soon, those awful, mean thoughts will be replaced by more positive thoughts. So keep holding on.
Challenge those nasty thoughts (negative thoughts) with this: “would you say these things to a friend?”
Allow for imperfections. You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. NO ONE is perfect.
Find some positive people to be around. Positivity can do a lot to improve your outlook on life.
Just like treatment for diabetes or liver disease, your symptoms will not improve overnight. Getting help does not mean that you are cured instantly.
Boost B-vitamin consumption while minimizing sugar and refined carbohydrates. Complex carbs are okay.
Don’t make any important decisions (getting married, having a baby, having another baby, moving across the country) while the depression has its teeth in you. Wait until you are feeling better, calmer, and can discuss the ideas with a loved one.
Educate yourself. Learn all that you can. Find things that work for you. Don’t be discouraged if what works for your friend doesn’t help you. Depression is unique.
Find a support group. Support groups are great places to feel less alone, less like a freak, and learn new and better coping mechanisms.
Write it out. For us, at Band Back Together, or for yourself.
We are NONE of us alone – even if we feel that way sometimes.
Helping A Loved One With Depression:
There’s a great deal of information available about depression. But loving and living with a depressed person can be painfully difficult. Anti-depressants are the number-one prescribed medication in this country; but they, unfortunately, are not a complete and total cure. Many with depression continue to suffer, or at least have periods of symptoms. This clearly affects those who love them.
It can be especially difficult when the depressed person is your child or a partner. Many parents feel they must rescue even their adult children from these issues. Most people feel helpless when you live with a depressed individual. It may not be healthy to feel it is one’s duty to “rescue” their partner, and certainly not to take responsibility for his or her feelings. This does happen often in relationships.
For men with depressed partners, feeling helpless is especially common. Generally, men are fixers: when they hear of a problem, their reaction is to fix it. But depression is not so easily fixed, therefore the result is helplessness and frustration. This can complicate the helping process.
Difficulties abound when living with a depressed partner. Because of symptoms like apathy, a partner’s needs may not be met. In a relationship, each partner will make attempts to feel love from their partner. These attempts may be thwarted by apathy from the depressive, leaving the partner feeling disconnected. Anhedonia can also contribute to a lack of sex drive, which can further complicate this problem. The end result: The partner feels his or her relationship needs are not important.
Not only might the parent or partner feel helpless in regard to alleviating the loved one’s depression, he might feel as if he is a contributor. In fact, because of of distorted thinking, the depressed individual might believe their loved one is a contributor. But even when that is not the case, the parent or partner may experience an internal battle over what to say or not to say. In the case in the previous paragraph, a partner may not express his or her feelings of neglect, fearing they will contribute to the depressed mood of the other. This can further both issues: feeling neglected and feeling like a contributor to the depression.
When you learn that your loved one is suffering from this very real mental illness, it can be overwhelming. What do you do? How do you do it? What if this makes the depression worse?
Many who live with a depressed person struggle with whether they are being supportive or enabling. Some believe “tough love” is what is needed. Being supportive and loving may appear to allow the depressed individual to remain stagnant. Pushing too much can lead to conflict and further withdrawal.
Coping with a loved one’s depression may seem like a hopeless situation. Still, there are still things that can be done:
Research depression, and what might be helpful. There are a number of things that are helpful for depression: exercise, meditation, 20 minutes of daily unblocked sunlight, medication, dietary changes, as well as a number of natural remedies. More than just suggesting what can help, the loved one can engage in the new behavior.
One of the most common questions asked is what you can DO to manage your own feelings and to help your loved one, who is struggling with depression.
BE THERE for your loved one, no matter what. Often depression makes a person feel isolated and alone, and because it can be frustrating for friends and families, they may feel abandoned. This may be as simple as sitting with someone, stopping by to check in, making a phone call, or running an errand.
Explain depression to children. Children are extremely intuitive and will notice if something is off or not quite right. Explaining to a child that someone is sad helps the child understand his or her own feelings, as well as the feelings of someone who is depressed.
Engage the depressed person in activities. While it is often difficult to find motivation through depression, making opportunities available and finding ways to encourage a depressed person to engage often helps that person reconnect with joy-bringing activities. Invite the person to hang out, go for a walk, watch a movie, eat a meal, or any other activities you do together.
Start small. Depression is very much a one-step-at-a-time disorder. Small steps may be easier to attain small goals and activities to build momentum. Inviting someone suffering from depression to a 200-person block party may not be the best way to engage a depressed person. Start small, such as going out to coffee or spending time together.
Balance diet, exercise, and medication. One of the best stress reducers and boosts in endorphins comes from exercise. Go for a walk, make or have regular meals, and remind the depressed person to regularly take medications.
TALK to the depressed person. Sometimes the best medicine is a place for the person to vent. They may not be looking for solutions, rather a safe space to worry.
Normalize feelings. It is okay for someone to feel sad, lonely, angry, depressed…even if that person feels ashamed about how he or she feels.
Be honest with the person about how they act and how their actions impact you and other people.
Take time for yourself. Depression can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with, and you need to make sure you take care of yourself as well.
Let them tell you how they feel. As a family member or friend, you may become frustrated, angry, or irritated at someone who is depressed. You may believe that he or she should snap out of it or get over it. You may feel that your or another’s situation is worse. While it is important to recognize these feelings, it is also important to allow the other person a chance to explain his or her perception or experience with depression. He or she may be able to explain what he or she has been feeling and how the depression is affecting those around him or her. Be open-minded and receptive.
Remember depression is a difficult disorder that impacts everyone close to a family member or friend. It is okay to feel sad, lonely, angry, frustrated, or a variety of other feelings. Acknowledge them and find how you can best help your loved one and you.
Take care of yourself. Whenever someone is dealing with a loved one that has mental illness, it is imperative to engage in or continue self-care. It is possible to balance your needs with your partner’s. Exercise. Do enjoyable things whether your loved one will do it with you or not. Do not allow the depression to darken the entire universe you live in.
Learn about depression and how to talk about depression with your family member. There are numerous places online that you can learn more about what’s helpful and not helpful for your loved one.
Be supportive. Cognitive distortions as well as the lethargy involved in depression lead to negative perceptions and irritability. It is often difficult not to be affected by this, especially if there is anger directed at you. However, it is important to follow this; don’t take anything personally.
It is important to remember that much of what is being directed at you is a result of depression and distortions in perception and thinking and not your fault. The ability to look at situations in a detached and objective way is at the heart of Eastern thought and psychological growth.
Compassionate detachment is being able to empathize and feel compassion for another, while not getting drawn into their perception of reality. You do what you can, without attaching expectation to it.
Being supportive also includes, in moderation, gently pushing your loved one to do what is good for him or her. This includes invitations to join in activities, and attempts to get the depressed person involved in exercise or some of the above suggestions demonstrated to help with depression.
Remember that depression is a serious condition – it can drain optimism, energy, and motivation from your loved one.
Depression, like other medical problems, is not something that can be “snapped out of.”
Remember that being a compassionate listener to your depressed friend is far more important than giving advice.
Encourage your loved one to talk about his or her feelings – and listen without judgment.
Depressed people tend to withdraw from others, so a single conversation about the depression isn’t the end of it. You may have to express your concerns and willingness to listen many times. Do so gently, but persistently.
Start a conversation by saying “I’ve been concerned about you,” “You seem down lately,” or “You’ve been acting differently, are you okay?”
If you don’t know how to help, go ahead and express this to your loved one.
Often, being supportive means offering encouraging words and hope for the future, not spewing advice.
Even though you can’t control someone’s recovery from depression, you can help with their treatment. Encourage your friend to seek help. Your depressed loved one may resist treatment as depression saps both motivation and the feelings that things will ever improve. In this way, encouraging your friend to seek treatment for depression may be challenging.
You can offer to help your friend seek treatment for depression by suggestion a visit to a general practitioner – not a psychiatrist. This may help rule out medical causes for depression.
Offer to help your depressed friend find a doctor or therapist. Promise to go with them for their first visit.
Help your depressed loved one make an extensive list of symptoms to take with them to the doctor.
Help with the treatment of depression in your loved one by researching treatment options, ensuring they go to their appointments, and stay on schedule with treatment plans.
Help to create a low-stress environment for your friend. It can be very challenging while you are depressed to become organized and develop and maintain a routine. Ask your friend if you can help with very specific tasks.
Keep all expectations realistic – it’s really frustrating to watch a depressed loved one struggle if progress is slow.
Be patient – even with proper treatment, depression recovery doesn’t happen overnight.
Encourage your depressed loved one. Sometimes, the very act of getting out of bed on a bad morning can be a huge accomplishment. Tell your friend so.
Encourage your friend to stick with treatments for depression, even if they are not working right away. Know that depression treatment takes time.
Understand that there is an increased risk of suicide among depressed people. Know that at some point, your friend with depression may or may not have suicidal thoughts.
Learn about the signs of suicide – the link will explain signs of suicide and how to handle them more thoroughly – and look for them in your friend. These may include talking about suicide, being preoccupied with suicide, dying or violence, or increased risky behaviors.
If you are concerned that suicide is a possibility, talk to your loved one. Then seek help. Call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255 to talk to a trained counselor who can advise you on how best to handle your suicidal loved one. Do NOT leave a suicidal person. Call 911 for any emergencies.
Things to Say To A Depressed Person:
“You’re not alone. I’m here with you.”
“You may not think so, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
“Maybe I don’t understand completely how you feel, but I want to help.”
“If you feel like you want to give up, hold on for one more minute – whatever you can manage.”
“You’re important to me – your life is important to me.”
“Tell me how I can help.”
How NOT To Help A Loved One With Depression:
While helping a loved one who is suffering depression, remember that self-care is incredibly important. Without taking care of yourself, you may become overwhelmed and be unable to properly help your friend.
Don’t take it personally if your loved one lashes out at you. Sometimes, people with depression say awful, angry things that may hurt you deeply. Remember that’s the depression – not your loved one – talking.
You cannot hide the problem. If your loved one has depression, don’t be an enabler. Don’t make excuses, cover up the depression, or lie for a loved one with depression. This may actually keep the depressed person from seeking proper treatment.
Don’t think that you can fix a loved one’s depression. It’s not your problem and it’s not up to you to take care of.
Remember, you’re not to blame for the depression nor are you responsible for your loved one’s happiness.
Things NOT To Say To A Depressed Person:
“It’s all in your head.”
“We’ve all felt this way.”
“Look on the bright side.”
“Why would you want to die? Your life is great.”
“I can’t help you.”
“Snap out of it!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Shouldn’t you be better by now?”
“You have to take care of yourself for your kids!”
“You are so blessed – how could you be feeling this way?”
“Count your blessings.”
“Suck it up.”
Have any other suggestions or tips for how to help someone who is depressed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.