Fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Olympic medallist Jeret Peterson. Oscar winning actor Robin Williams. Musicians Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. Fashion designer Kate Spade. Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain. What’s common among all of them? Yes, they’re all immensely talented people in their own fields, and world famous too. But they’re also people who’ve battled depression and ultimately lost the battle to suicide. So many celebrity suicides have brought the discussion of depression to the forefront, and more people are realizing the dangers of letting it go untreated. What about those among us who are living with a loved one with depression?
There is now much more awareness about recognizing the signs of depression and taking timely action. However, the depressed person seldom realizes what he’s going through or what action to take next. Which means that all the advice about depression is directed at someone else – the care giver.
They are the category of people we tend to forget when discussing depression – the ones living with patients of depression, who face some unique challenges of their own.
The Challenges of Living with a Loved One With Depression
The biggest concern a person faces in such a situation is not knowing what to do. When it’s a cold, you make chicken soup and let them rest. When it’s diabetes, you monitor their diet and make sure they take their medication. But what do you do when the illness is not something so obvious or visible?
“From caring comes courage.”Lao Tzu
Living with a depressed individual often triggers three main feelings – helplessness, guilt and anger. Helplessness, because you don’t know what to do or say to make it better. Guilt, because you’re wondering if you did something to cause it. Anger, because your loved one should have seen this coming and prevented it.
All these feelings are real, but misplaced. No one is responsible for this situation, and everyone needs to work together to overcome it. As for helplessness, what you need is clarity on how you can help. The tips listed below will help you deal a loved one with depression the right way, without putting any pressure on yourself or the patient.
Find A Therapist And Be There For A Loved One with Depression
1. Understand the illness.
For most people who’ve never had a depressive episode, understanding depression can be difficult. So do as much research as you can about the topic. Read articles from reliable sources, find out support groups in your city or talk to a medical professional. You can also talk to friends who’ve been in a similar situation.
2. Get Professional Therapy
Despite all the awareness, many people still think of depression and mental disorders as taboo, and they may hesitate going to a professional. Or they’re in denial about their condition and don’t want to believe that they have a problem. The depression only distorts things further. However, as the caretaker, you need to realize that this is something that requires professional help and you’ll have to gently persuade the depressive person to go for therapy.
3. Help out with everyday tasks.
A person going through depression is already struggling with his or her own feelings, and regular tasks can seem like a huge burden. Take over whatever you can, like grocery shopping, errands, laundry or child care. If there are babies in the picture, it can make things more difficult, since the infant requires full time care. If necessary, hire someone who can take some of the load off.
4. Create a positive environment.
Among the symptoms of depression are eating and sleeping too much or too little. Help your loved one get out of this cycle by making sure he or she gets a good night’s rest and healthy meals on time. Avoid distressing news or toxic acquaintances. Keep rooms bright and sunny as well as clutter-free.
5. Be a good listener.
Depressed people tend to isolate themselves, so if they want to talk, encourage it. Let them say whatever’s on their mind – your job is to simply listen. Don’t offer opinions, don’t judge, don’t take anything personally and don’t try to fix the problem – no matter how trivial YOU think it is. If you have to respond in some way, speak in positive tones, reminding them of things that matter to them – faith in God, their kids or something else.
6. Make plans.
Depressed people tend to lose interest in things they previously loved, so they might not be up to any plans you make initially. But as they get better, you can offer to go to a restaurant or movie together or just a short walk outside. Don’t force them; gently offer your company and be patient if they turn it down.
7. Watch out for suicide risks.
Suicide is a real risk in the case of depression, as we mentioned earlier with so many celebrity examples. Watch out for signs like frequent threats of suicide or an increased severity in depression symptoms. If so, be sure to make the environment around them safe. Keep harmful objects and medicines locked up and don’t leave the person alone.
8. Check in regularly.
Depression isn’t the flu – it doesn’t get over in seven days. It takes time and how much depends on each individual case. Even if the person looks like she’s back to normal, you still need to keep an eye out for symptoms, since the depression may appear again. This will help you the next time the doctor asks you something. Pointing out improvements to the patient will also encourage them to stick with treatment.
9. Get support.
For yourself. Dealing with a loved one with depression is not something that can be done alone, so get more people on board. In close relationships, the care giver may have feelings of resentment, guilt and frustration, so having someone to talk about your own problems will make life easier.
10. Take care of yourself.
Along with getting support, make sure you’re nourishing yourself, physically and emotionally. Get enough rest, eat well, drink lots of water and stay active. Be involved in your hobbies and get your me-time where you are not worrying about your loved one’s illness.
Experts in psychology agree that the support of family and friends is extremely important for a person trying to overcome depression. It can make the depressed person feel like he’s not dealing with this terrible darkness all by himself. That in itself is a huge step on the road to recovery. As Mark Marsland said, “only when you illuminate others…will you truly understand how to illuminate yourself.”