It’s really difficult to watch a loved one go through depression. As much as you want to fix it for them, it seems out of your control. It can also be confusing if you aren’t familiar with depression that much. Watching someone’s behavior change can make you question the source and validity of this change. Well, I can assure you there’s a reason for this change, and even though you can’t cure their depression, you can certainly aid them in this journey. Here are a few tips I think are the best way to support your loved one.
The stigma of depression greatly impacts those who deal with it. Since it’s an invisible illness, many people don’t believe truly how debilitating it can be. Letting your loved one with depression know you believe them is an amazing first step to supporting them. Validation from your loved ones when you are in the throes of depression is very impactful. I remember being concerned about what my loved ones would think/say more than what my peers thought. When those who know you the best believe your battle with depression, it gives you hope -- hope that you haven’t lost who you were before depression came.
Let Them Know You’re Here for Them
Verbally tell them this. It may seem like you don’t need to say this because it’s “obvious,” but hearing your loved one is there for you when you’re struggling with depression makes a significant difference. Tell them over and over again, as much as they need to hear it.
Follow Through and Follow Up With Being There for Them
Some people go in and out of depressive episodes for years. It’s more common to help someone in the beginning when this is a new struggle, but what about 5 years down the road? With my depression, I sometimes felt like people were thinking, “Why haven’t you gotten over this yet?” It’s hard for the person struggling to explain why it comes and goes, and why it can get worse for no “visible reason.” If someone you love has depression, be there for them at the beginning and down the road if they’re still affected by it. They need support just the same. Follow up with them even if it seems like they’re better “on the outside.” I had people in my life say, “I didn’t know you were still struggling because you seem better.” Little did they know I got better at not making my depression as obvious to others.
I also found most people are on autopilot when you ask them how they are. After they give me the “I’m good” answer, I become more specific and say, “But how are you really feeling about _? Is there any way I can help you now?” Being specific when asking someone how they are makes them pause for a second and evaluate how they’re doing, and also lets them know you really care about their response.
Ask the Difficult Question: ‘Are You Thinking of Suicide?’
There is a misconception about asking the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Many people think it will put the idea in the person’s head or will trigger them more. It’s the opposite in fact. Studies have shown when suicidal people are asked if they’re thinking of hurting themselves, it decreases their chances of doing it because it shows someone is paying attention and cares.
Don’t ask it in a way that makes it easy to say no: “You’re not thinking of hurting yourself, right?” It’s difficult to ask the question, but the clearer and more unbiased you can be the better. Most importantly, if someone says they are thinking of hurting themselves, believe them and get them to help immediately. This is not something to take lightly or slowly. It is important to act fast and get them professional help, you could save their life.
Provide Them With Resources
When you’re in the throes of depression, it can be difficult to think logically or have the energy to find resources. There have been times when I wanted help but couldn’t bring myself to seek it out. When a loved one sat with me and helped me get a therapist or psychiatrist appointment, it was the difference between me getting help and not.
It isn’t easy watching your loved one go through depression, but these tips can make them feel seen, supported, and loved. Depression often takes these feelings away from you, so to be reminded of them by a loved one is valuable.
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