I am 55 years old and I am living with Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder A comorbid disorder of Complex PTSD is depression. I want to give people who don’t know what depression feels like some insight as to what they can do (or not do) to help their loved ones who are dealing with it. It’s a terrible thing to go through alone, so my hope is that this can help people make others feel less alone.
1. It’s Not About You
Probably the most frustrating thing about dealing with depression (other than dealing with depression) is having people think that somehow my mental illness is about them. If you are a friend/family member/significant other of someone who is dealing with depression, do not assume that they are depressed because of you, or that you don’t make them happy. People with depression can still feel happiness, along with any other emotion.
I love my boyfriend and he makes me happy, but that doesn’t “solve” my depression, and THAT’S OKAY. There is usually a lot that goes into why someone is depressed, so don’t take it personally if you can’t make their depression disappear. Also, don’t take it personally if your loved one with depression doesn’t always want to hang out or talk to you. Try to be understanding of what their going through rather than being angry or upset that they may not be as present or social as you want them to be.
2. Depression Manifests In Many Ways
Generally when people think of “depression,” they think of someone being really sad and lethargic. However, that is only one very small aspect of depression, and it also doesn’t apply to everyone. “Depression” is kind of an umbrella term, and sometimes I wish we as a public heard more about all the different ways in which one can experience depression. For instance, I mentioned I have bipolar depression (the term “bipolar” is deeply misunderstood as well, but I won’t go into that).
For me, this means I am easily irritated and I can go from being happy to being at an incredible low without a moment’s notice. It can happen anywhere in any situation. It also means that I think about a lot of things really quickly, which is bad and can honestly be scary when I’m having a depressive episode, because it means that I’m thinking about a lot of bad things loudly (in my head) and quickly. There is more to how I experience my depression, but I won’t go into right now. Other people with depression may be angry, anxious, self-destructive, extremely stressed. They can be very social, but the whole time their with people, their thinking about how they’re doing everything wrong. Basically, don’t assume that someone is not depressed because they don’t fit the mold of what you think depression looks like.
3. Be Understanding Of What May Be Difficult For Them
Dealing with depression is hard. Very very hard. It often makes it difficult to do regular everyday things. So, what doesn’t seem like a big deal to you may be a huge deal to someone living with depression. There was a time where I was going through a really rough patch with my depression and it was a struggle for me to just keep on living. I would wake up and think about how I didn’t want to do this anymore. It was terrible.
Every day felt like I was drowning. So, sometimes I wouldn’t want to get out of bed or eat or talk to anyone. I’m sure many other people living with depression have felt like this at some point. It already feels incredibly shitty, and it doesn’t help to have people then say that we’re just being lazy or that we need to try harder (not to be depressed, I guess). For some people, the fact that they even made it through the day, even though they didn’t get out of bed, is an accomplishment.
4. Be There How They Need You To Be
Sometimes people just need someone to talk to, to cry to, to hug, to lay with, to watch tv with, to run an errand with, to laugh with. Sometimes they need someone not to be there physically, but to just be available; to have someone they can count on. I have a friend who lives in North Carolina (I’m in California) and we don’t talk everyday, but she’s available when I want/need to FaceTime and I can talk about anything or nothing at all with her. I don’t think she knows how much that means to me, especially at times when I’m going through an exceptionally rough period.
These are just some of the many things you can do to help your loved one. Try to talk to them to get a better understanding of what they’re dealing with and how you can help. Some people may not want to talk about it at first, because it is hard to talk about, so be patient and respectful.
5, Get educated
There are countless resources online that can help you understand how your loved one needs to be supported through this time. In my friend’s situation, she was actually dealing with co-occurring disorders. In addition to an anxiety disorder she was also diagnosed with serious depression and an eating disorder as well. Having basic knowledge of all of these things really helped me to be aware of her needs and how I could be the most help to her.
6. Be empathetic and present
Regardless of whether you have experienced firsthand some type of mental illness, you still possess the ability to empathize with your loved one. Have you ever felt really down on yourself or experience grief? Your loved one is experiencing those same types of feelings, but on a daily, repetitive basis. Showing empathy can mean that you just sit and listen or you buy your friend a journal to write random thoughts in. Every small act of compassion towards your loved one will give them the additional emotional support that they need.
7. Be encouraging
Every situation is unique, so cater these tips to what you think will be appropriate to help your loved one. Whether it’s a parent, friend, sibling, or co-worker who approaches you about their experience or starts to show signs of mental illness, I strongly encourage you to reach out and help them. Also, find out more info on what we can do as a community to address mental illness. The more we talk about this, the more we help those struggling to feel less alone.
Depression is more than simply “feeling sad” or being upset. Rather, depression is a serious mental illness that impacts millions of people around the world each year. With early intervention, diagnosis, and access to effective treatment, many individuals with depression can improve and enjoy meaningful lives. However, if untreated, depression can have devastating consequences for both individuals who are struggling and their loved ones.
Unfortunately, depression is often misunderstood, and it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is struggling. The following are four things that you should never say to someone who is struggling with depression.
1. You really need to just “snap of out it.”
Telling someone with depression to just “snap out of it” is akin to telling someone with a broken leg to “just walk.” Having a mental illness is not a choice. No one would choose to feel paralysing levels of depression, and if the person was able to control their symptoms of depression, they would. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is highly invalidating to the person who is struggling and insinuates that they are deciding to suffer from depression.
Instead, try asking the person what you can do to support them. If the person is struggling with coming up with ideas, you could suggest that they engage in activities with you that they used to enjoy. While they might not “feel like it,” engaging in these activities could help to boost their mood and reduce their sense of isolation.
2. There are other people who have it worse off than you.
While this statement is often an attempt to help the person with depression to feel better, it typically has the opposite effect. Depression is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While someone’s depression could be triggered by an external event, often there may be no known external trigger.
Additionally, this statement invalidates the person’s feelings and might cause them to feel guilt and shame surrounding their depression. Instead, you can express to the person that you are here to support them as best that you can. You might also choose to validate the person’s feelings by saying something like, “It seems like you are in a lot of pain right now and are really struggling. I want you to know that I’m always here for you and you don’t have to go through this alone.”
3. Happiness is a choice.
While well-intentioned, this statement also insinuates that the person is choosing to experience depression. Additionally, if simply “choosing to be happy” was the cure for depression there would be no need for treatment centres, therapists, and medication. Depression is a serious mental illness that in part stems from chemical imbalances in the brain. A person who is struggling with depression does not need a motivational speech on making “the choice to be happy” ― rather, they need access to proper treatment and support.
Instead, express to the person that it is so important for them to get help and support from trained professionals. You can also express that you know that they aren’t choosing to feel this way and you are here to support them in any way that you can.
4. But you don’t look depressed.
There is simply no way to tell if someone is struggling with depression based upon their external appearance. Some people have learned how to mask their depression under the guise of smiling pictures and pronouncements about their accomplishments.
When someone shares with you that they are suffering from depression, it is critical that you take their concerns seriously. Instead of making judgments, validate their feelings and express that you are here to support them.
The Bottom Line
By avoiding the use of stigmatising statements and approaching those struggling with compassion, you can help to eradicate some of the shame that is often associated with having a mental health diagnosis. Studies show that shame and fear of judgment is one reason that people with mental illnesses often avoid seeking treatment. This is why providing support and compassion to someone who is struggling with depression is so crucial.
Currently my depression is under control through Psychotherapy, medication and the amazing support of my family using the strategies listed above. This means I can work on the trauma aspect of my Complex PTSD and strive towards full recovery. A long road but one that is achievable once depression is kept at bay.