Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to Help Someone Who Is Battling Depression

I've written a lot about what not to do when someone is depressed, dealing with a difficult mood cycling flareup, or, worse, feeling suicidal.  And these are incredibly important. I can't stress enough how doing the wrong thing could urge them from a bad place to a place of total despair. But it also helps to know what you can do, because people may act a certain way not out of malice, but out of feeling helpless - they perhaps know they've been told not to do or say something, but aren't sure what else to do.  If they feel it's a critical situation, they may start to panic, and we know all too well that people don't always make the best choices in the midst of panic. So here are some suggestions:
  • Ask them how they would like you to help. Just because, if the tables were turned, you might want to go for a drink or get boosted up by some positive cheer-leading or be told "it's all going to be ok", doesn't mean it's what is best for them. Don't treat others how you want to be treated. Treat them how they want to be treated. We're all unique individuals, and only we know what best serves each of us in any given situation. Expecting someone to accept the way you help or nothing at all is short sighted, self-centered, and quite simply, not helpful. 
  • When you do the above, ask 'How can I help?". That "how" is important. It's not an "if you need anything", which requires them to be the one to follow up and reach out (often we're afraid of feeling needy and/or bringing others down so don't do so), nor is it a question of if you will help or not. Again, that's saying "I could if you reach out/ask/make that effort that maybe you can't right now."  You want to tell them, "I will be helping. I will be here for you. You're too important to me not to. So, tell me what would best support you." 
  • Keep trying. Some days, we may need to be alone. Others, we may need company, or at least someone to talk to. Please know that if we want to be alone, it's not personal. Many conditions involve social anxiety, especially if we feel like we might stick out, or be a burden to others, and on days when that gets particularly troubling, we may not want to see anyone, let alone be out and about. It doesn't mean we don't care about you. Nor does it mean we want to be all alone, 24/7/365, for the rest of our lives. 
  • Per the above, if we do seem receptive to seeing people, suggest things that may be easy on our depression and anxiety. Just because we might be feeling slightly better than yesterday doesn't mean that 1.) we're 100 percent or 2.) we want to be out and about with tons of people. And even if we are up for venturing out, we probably don't want to be the life the party (read: we probably NEVER want to be the life of the party, even on our best days). So suggest one on one time that is more low key. For me, anything that involves being out in nature, a casual brunch or catching up over coffee works well, for instance.
  • Understand our limitations, and if we're willing to meet you half way, that that this is a huge step, and it would be very much appreciated if you did the same. In fact, it's really, really nice if you suggest this instead of us having to ask you to accommodate us. It makes us feel like less of a drain and less needy. (There's a pattern here: we don't want to feel like we're troubling you just by being ourselves). 
  • Understand that we do, and will, relapse, for lack of a better word. Depression, diagnosed anxiety, and mood cycling are chronic conditions. They flare up, they get better. Despite the fact that I feel like this is blatantly obvious in a condition that's mood cycling, it's amazing how people forget. We may be fine today and bed ridden tomorrow, or vice versa. Allow us to be day to day. If you expect anything else, you'll be disappointed and hurt, and when it comes out on us in the form of lack of support, so will we. 
  • Give us, point blank, the support we need. Things like "I'm here for you, whatever you need, always." "I want to help you." "I care about you/love you" are not things we want to guess at or assume. We need to hear verbatim.  And then we need to see it backed it up with action.  In our worst states, if there's a possible way for our brain to find a negative, it will. We're not being "glass half empty". To our brain, the glass looks completely empty, there's no potential water source, and we're painfully dehydrated. We don't want to have to squint at the glass and think "well, maybe, if I could turn it this way and that and stand on my head and wait 10 minutes one drop may come out." We want someone to tell us they'll bring us a pitcher of water, and if they can't, they'll at least sit with us until one comes so we aren't going through this all alone.
The bottom line is, our conditions are real, genetic, physical illnesses that we often feel little control over and certainly never asked for. They are not choices or attitude problems. We do not want to feel like we have to cover them up or change who we are as a person in order to be more accepted and loved. We also do not want to feel like a burden or drain to others. We already feel different and isolated. We simply want to be understood, supported, and to not constantly be waiting for the bottom to inevitably drop out. Our brain already does that to us enough. 

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