Breathe: Top 5 things to say or do for people suffering from depression
I've explained how anxiety and depression feel to me, and I've written about the top 5 things that people can do or say to me to help when I'm suffering from anxiety. This is the equivalent for depression, but it's a bit trickier.
I've had to think much harder about this. When I'm at the bottom of the well, it's much, much harder for me to be self aware and then when I come out of the well, it's much harder for me to remember how I felt and what helped to ease that. And that's what makes depression so difficult to manage.
It's very common for people to say things that they think will help, but they really don't. I've also had situations where people think they need to act as my therapist and spend hours trying to get me to "talk it out". Talking helps, but only when I'm ready. Not when it's forced.
At some point, I'll write a post of the things not to say or do, because they matter too but for now, I'm going to focus on the things that my loved ones have done that have helped me.
When I'm depressed I feel like I spend a lot of time crying and saying "I don't know" while people make lists of things and activities at me... and that's the problem. While I'm depressed I don't know what will make me feel better. If I did, I'd have done it. It's not a switch that can be flicked. It's a small, gradual improvement. I hope this list can help you to help your loved one to make the climb out of depression too.
1. Make me a cup of tea.
When I'm depressed, getting off the sofa is the hardest thing in the world so self care becomes a very low priority. This includes eating and drinking, but it's important for the depressed person to keep eating and drinking to prevent low energy levels and dehydration from exacerbating the problem.
This is where you can help. Make a cup of tea. Cook a healthy dinner. Leave a healthy lunch in the fridge. Find your depressed person's nest (mine is the sofa) and leave a jug of water plus some healthy but appealing snacks within reach. For future reference, I like popcorn.
You could also run them a bath, do some laundry or washing up, change the bed. Little things, that make a big difference.
The most important thing is that if you ask me if I want a cup of tea, or a bath, or dinner, I'll say no. Because I don't want to make a decision. I don't know what I want. I don't want to be a burden. I don't want to move. I don't want anything.
But if you just leave the tea near me. Put the dinner on my lap on the sofa. Announce that a bath is ready... well, I might ignore them all. But I'm more likely to just automatically do it.
And if I'm clean and fed, that's a small improvement and it may help me to start to feel a little lighter.
2. Can I give you a hug?
When I'm depressed, I feel very alone and sometimes a human connection can make the world of difference. Obviously this depends on the kind of relationship that you have with the depressed person and should always be with consent, but this may be something as simple as a hug, holding my hand or just sitting quietly with me.
Sometimes The Husband has taken me off to bed with a laptop and netflix and has just been there with me while we watch box sets of nothing in particular. But he's there, next to me. Oh, and keep it light. I don't need any more drama in my life right now. Ab Fab works well.
Animals can also be a great way through this, so if you don't have a naturally huggy relationship but you do have an affectionate dog, bring them round and let them provide the physical contact. Sitting with a dog and stroking them can be extremely helpful.
3. Make a clear, honest statement
I love you. I care about you. I don't understand, but I'm here and I'm offering compassion. I'm staying and I'm with you through this.
You may think that these statements should be obvious to your loved one, but when I'm in a depression I lose all confidence in these things. I also assume that my depression has somehow affected our relationship. That I've somehow spoilt things.
Making a clear, honest statement can be incredibly reassuring and, knowing that my depression hasn't changed how you feel about me, allows me to open up a little. It helps me to know where I stand. To feel like I have a small piece of solid ground to stand upon.
It also helps me to know that I don't have to put a facade up with you, and that means that I can invest my energy in trying to get myself better, rather than trying to maintain a facade.
4. Support small achievements
"Hey! You got out of bed today! That's fantastic!"
I've had days when standing up from the sofa so that I can go to the toilet has felt IMPOSSIBLE! Even though I really, urgently needed to go, standing up and moving was just too hard. Because everything is so hard, acknowledging and celebrating my small achievements can be very powerful.
If I didn't have a shower yesterday but managed to have one today, that's an achievement. And if I did it by myself with no nudging, that's a sign that I'm gradually improving. However, I may not be aware that I'm improving so highlighting the small achievements helps you to let me know that I'm getting there... that I'm not stuck at the bottom of the well and that I'm climbing out of it.
5. Help me to get help
Now, it may be difficult to accept but your loved one may need more than your help. They may need professional help. When I'm depressed, sometimes I want help, but I have no idea how to go about finding it. I also struggle with picking up the phone and having a conversation, so calling the Doctor to make an appointment may be an obstacle too big for me to get over.
So ask me. Ask me if I'd like to talk to someone who may be able to help. Offer to book an appointment with my GP or a therapist. Ask if there is anyone I've spoken to before and would I like to see them again. You could even offer to drive me to the appointment and wait for me. Or book me a taxi.
If I need to talk to a professional, anything that you can do to remove barriers to that will get me there a lot sooner. And that's got to be a good thing.
Depression is an odd beast and if you've not suffered, it's difficult to relate or understand what helps. These are the things that help me most, and I hope that they can help to steer someone in the right direction. And if you're depressed please send this list to your loved ones so that they can try to help without making things worse.