The short: Roughly 1 in 6 Americans will experience depression in their life. Some of those people will experience a single bout of depression due to an event or circumstance. Some will have to endure several bouts throughout their life that come and go. And still others will have to battle depression for years. This last group of people have a mental illness called Major Depressive Disorder, and they make up about 1.5% of the U.S. population.
Based on the statistics given in the paragraph above, it is very likely that you know someone who has in the past or is currently experiencing depression. Or, maybe you yourself are dealing with it. And while depression is a fairly common disorder, we still don’t hear about it much except possibly on TV commercials for Prozac or on popular blog posts that we’ve seen floating around the internet.
The big deal is: depression is not a rare disorder at all, but it makes you feel incredibly alone. That is why we need to help our loved ones who are dealing with it; depression is an incredibly hard burden to bear and the people living with it need help whether or not they are willing to admit it!
How can I help someone with their depression?
1. Understand that you can’t fix them
What people who don’t experience mental illness fail to understand is that you can’t reason your way out of a depressive slump, a manic episode, or a bout of anxiety, because mental illness is not rational. The person experiencing the mental illness may be a rational person, but the disorder can temporarily take away someone’s sense of clarity and sanity. The thoughts that mental illness puts in your head are a bunch of unwelcome, irrepressible nonsense, and you usually know that it is, but you still can’t “think your way out of it” most of the time.
It’s true that learning to think differently can keep some symptoms at bay, but you can’t just think your way out of a mental illness; if you could, everyone would have done that already! You see, if you suffer from major depression, you can go to therapy and learn coping strategies, like recognizing and rejecting thoughts like “I am worthless” or “I’d be better off dead.” However, no matter how many coping strategies you apply, that still won’t shake the bitter, resounding emptiness that whispers in your ear when you’re alone at night.
With that said, just know that you are not trying to fix your friend, spouse, child, whoever. You are simply helping them remember what they already knew about life.
2. Be with them (in a way that they find comfortable)
Often times when we imagine a stereotypical “depressed person,” we see a lonely man or woman lying in bed with the curtains drawn, wallowing in their solitude. Sometimes this isn’t true, but unfortunately, depression really does make them want to crawl under a blanket and cry. Being alone feels a lot better than being around others because it relieves them of the task of pretending to be normal and happy. But, just because it may be more comfortable to be alone, that doesn’t mean that it’s better for their health to be alone. So, invite them to do something with you and make sure it’s something that won’t seem too stressful for them. This way, they are less likely to turn you down.
- Social events that you may want to steer clear of are:
- Events where drugs and alcohol may be present like nightclubs, bars, and wild parties. People who have depression are already more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, so do them a favor and don’t put them in a position where those substances are readily available. Also, really loud, crowded places like clubs can make a depressed person feel even more lonely and invisible.
- Large dinner parties, fundraisers, or other events where the person will be expected to talk to lots of strangers may make them extremely uncomfortable, so check with them ahead of time to make sure they’re up for it.
- Things that they may enjoy:
- They may prefer a some one-on-one time in a low-stimulus environment like a relaxed coffee shop, especially if they like to chat.
- Some people (like me) prefer to do an activity side by side with a friend than sit around and talk. Things like painting pottery, walking on a path, or even shopping together can be a way to interact that doesn’t involve too much talking.
- You don’t even have to go out to help someone feel more connected. You can stay in and play board games, watch a comedy or a sports game, or make arts and crafts.
3. Remind them that they are known and loved
This one is so simple! It only takes a few seconds to write somebody an “I’m thinking about you” text or a handwritten note. Drop by their house with their favorite snack or leave a personalized, funny meme on their Facebook page. Even a very small gesture can make their day and leave them feeling noticed.
4. Lend an ear, not a mouth
Sometimes when you are depressed, all you want is to feel listened to and not to have everybody throwing suggestions and life advice at you. If a depressed person in your life says they need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, be there and just listen without judging or giving counsel unless they ask for it. If they want advice, they will ask for it.
5. Know how and when to intervene in a crisis
This last point is a very serious one that you should not skip over. About 120 people in the U.S. die by suicide every day, and 90% of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder like depression.
Anyone living with major depression will have ups and downs, but sometimes they come across a trigger that sets them back, or they may fall into a deeper level of depression than normal for no apparent reason. In the midst of an unusually deep depression is when a crisis could occur. When the depression makes someone think that they are worthless or that their life is pointless, they may turn to self-harm or suicide because they believe that death is their only option, but you can intervene and save their life.
Here are some classic signs that someone may be seriously considering suicide:
- Unusual social withdrawal from friends and family
- Abruptly purchasing a gun or other weapon
- Talking about how they are a burden to others, how they are worthless/trapped/have no reason to live
- Increase in use of drugs, alcohol, and reckless behavior
- Giving away prized possessions without explanation
- Writing a suicide note or a Last Will & Testament
Note: If a depressed person is in the middle of a crisis and they are displaying signs of suicidality, it is important that you stay with them until they are stable. You can call a crisis hotline or 911 and ask them how to help the person in crisis, but don’t leave them.
A common myth about depression and suicide is that you might “plant the idea of suicide in the mind of the other person” if you ask them point-blank if they are suicidal. This myth has been proven false! If you think they are serious about harming or killing themself very soon, the best thing to do is just ask them directly if they are considering suicide.
It is always better to ask them directly and momentarily feel like an idiot if you’re wrong, than it is to not ask them and miss an opportunity to save their life!
I have listed two hotlines below in case of a crisis:
The take-away: depression is very tough on the person experiencing it as well as others who love and care for them. However, we are all stronger together, so let’s support one another and never be afraid to ask for help.
Em the Silver Spoonie