Loving the loveless: How to help someone suffering from depression
A short while ago I wrote an article on my blog on my history with depression. The whole point of putting my story out there was to encourage an open dialogue around mental health. Many people told me they did not reach out to me at the time because they didn’t know how to, and saying the wrong thing to someone who is in a dark place can do more damage than good.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to share some of the things that have and haven’t worked for me, what helps and what hurts, when you have a friend or loved one struggling with depression.
Self-loathing is one of the worst things about depression. What saved me in the end was getting rid of the people who pushed me to hate myself, and focusing on the people who reminded me every day of the things they loved about me.
It doesn’t have to be - and shouldn’t be - flat out compliments; these often sound empty. Remembering small moments in time that you shared shows that you care, that that person’s existence matters to you and that you would be hurt if they were gone.
Depression can lead you to not see the point in anything. Many times, I didn’t eat or shower, or leave my bed for days in a row. If you know someone in this situation, push them slightly but not too much. Don’t try to convince them to go out and see people - that is often the scariest thing one can imagine and it just makes us want to go back to bed even more.
Instead, try and get them to do basic things, like eating, showering, develop some sort of basic self-care routine. A few texts a day, asking if they’ve eaten or washed their face yet, is enough of a reminder that they have someone that cares what happens to them.
Don’t ask us what we want. Most of the time we don’t know ourselves. Take your time to figure out what it is that makes us smile when we are at our worst, what helps us calm down. It can be something small, like a particular type of food, an inside joke or a TV show.
In fact, it is often the smallest, most thoughtful thing that can make everything better, not big gestures and expensive presents. If you also pay attention to our behaviours, it shows that you think about us when we are not there; I cannot stress how important that is.
The fact that you are there means everything. Even if the person pushes you away, hang around. Loneliness can be incredibly crippling, and having someone who is always by your side can be a lifesaver.
But don’t push yourself on them - the pressure to answer questions, to explain feelings, to feel like you have to satisfy someone else to keep their friendship can very often be harmful. Showing up at someone’s house is just as good as calling or texting them on a regular basis, as long as you make sure they understand you’re not going anywhere.
I cannot stress the importance of making someone feel safe. Make sure your loved one knows that you can come to their house anytime with no expectation of socialising or doing much at all.
It can be an enormous blessing to have someone by your side who will just show up and sit in silence with you under a blanket, no questions asked, and offer to order food when it’s time for dinner.
This is probably the most important thing you can do. Many people told me “I get it, I get really sad sometimes too” and it made me spiral further down.
Depression is not something that is easy to explain, and it is not something that can be understood unless you have gone through it to some degree. The most satisfying thing one can hear is “I can’t imagine what it must feel like, it sounds horrible, I am sorry, but I am here for you”.
I hope that this list helps at least one person struggling with how to help a loved one suffering from depression. Remember it is an illness, not a mood, and it must be treated with respect and care. Keep your eyes and ears open, listen more and talk less, and you will already be doing so much more than most.
Written by Inês.