With as many as 300 million people affected globally (World Health Organisation, 2018), depression is becoming exceedingly common. So it is highly likely that you know someone who has either been diagnosed with depression or has mental health difficulties involving depressive mood.
It is not easy seeing a loved one struggle. Whether it is your friend or partner or parent or child, you want to be there for them, you want to support them, help them feel better. Caregivers are all too familiar with the helplessness, anger, fatigue, frustration and even the temptation to ask them to ‘get over it already’! Relationships often end up as collateral damage in the wake of depression. It doesn’t have to be that way though! With a little motivation and lots of compassion, you and your loved one can navigate through depression without damaging your relationship.
How to SUPPORT A LOVED ONE with depression
Despite the growing prevalence of depression, awareness and understanding of the experience is limited. You are not expected to be an expert, however, acquainting yourself with common symptoms, available treatment options and possible side effects of prescribed medication can help prevent misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Reading informational articles from reliable sources (such as Help Guide and Psych Central), blogs of people living with and working with depression and books (like Reasons To Stay Alive and I Had a Black Dog) provide a wealth of information.
Sometimes, all you need to do is listen. It is frustrating to see your loved one struggle, but no matter how many blogs and books you read, don’t tell them what they should be feeling like! They don’t need you to find a quick fix. They need to know they have someone to talk to – when and if they want to. The space to be heard without judgment is the most helpful thing you could give them.
Depression does not look the same every day – some days will be better than others. Remember that change is rarely linear, less so during recovery from depression. Help your loved one to see any signs of progress that you observe without the expectation that this progress is permanent.
BE THEIR CHEERLEADER
Depression often strips people of hope. A person with depression struggles to acknowledge any positive change, but will magnify even the smallest setback. Recognise and remind them of the achievements. Don’t give false hope or patronise, but let them know when they are doing well.
HELP WITH DAILY TASKS
Seemingly simple tasks like restocking groceries, making the bed or replying to emails can be overwhelming in the midst of a depressive episode. When possible, support them with everyday chores and simple tasks. Instead of asking ‘what can I do for you’, identify tasks they are struggling with and offer concrete help. Ask for permission – you don’t want to add to their feeling of losing control and autonomy.
A person with depression is already struggling with highly critical thoughts and beliefs about themselves. Don’t add to their burden of self-blame by saying things like ‘you should try harder’ ‘you will feel better if you go out more’ ‘there is so much to be happy about’. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around them, but be mindful of the impact your words can have.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
The most important thing to remember if you are supporting someone with depression is looking after your own health and wellbeing! As a carer, you are susceptible to fatigue and burnout. Don’t wait to reach a breaking point. Be kind to yourself and make self-care a priority. Many people find it immensely helpful to be part of a support group – either in your community or online. You can also seek counselling to get support.