Sixteen million Americans are diagnosed with depression. Around the world, this condition affects around 350 million people. However, there are still so many negative stigmas and false knowledge about depression prevailing in the modern society.
The first most important thing to remember is that nobody “wallows” in depression as if it’s a cozy hot bath tub. Depression is not a choice. It’s a severe physical condition that needs special treatment and attention. When you deal with someone having depression (a loved one or just a casual acquaintance), please do not forget about the following things:
1. They experience much more than sadness
Depression does not equal to sadness. In fact, it’s a complicated mix of of feelings and physical changes in the body. Apart from overwhelming sadness, it rolls in with a huge bundle of other emotions like anxiety, disturbance, apathy, tension and more. Don’t ask them about where their anxiety came from, instead, offer them to help dealing with it.
2. They are not weak
Some of the most influential and talented people in the world suffered from depression. These people include J.K. Rowling, Robin Williams, and more. And that’s absolutely fine. In fact, as Dr.Neel Burton puts it in his TED talk it is our modern society that created a negative stigma around depression.
The book author Eric G. Wilson develops this thought even further and writes: “I for one am afraid that our American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am wary in the face of this possibility: to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations“.
Being sad, overwhelmed and depressed is absolutely fine. It doesn’t mean people with depression are just weak. It means they just need to address some important life problems and learn to deal with them.
3. They won’t become happy if they just start acting like one
Sadly, they can’t just snap of being depressed. They cannot do the “happy things” and become happier. Depression severely affects brain chemistry. It’s a condition that you can’t get rid of by simply switching your mood. Don’t push them into doing things that might make them delight or force them to have fun. As Sabrina Benaim puts it in her video: “It’s just not so that much fun having fun when you don’t want to have fun”.
4. They often have insomnia they can’t beat
Counting sheep won’t do the trick here. Their mind rings with thousand questions and thoughts keeping them awake at night. If you find them sitting in the kitchen in 3 am, don’t force them back to bed. Offer your company (even silent), a glass of something warm and a soothing talk or book, or anything else that might help them get rid of those pesky thoughts.
5. They don’t make something out of nothing
Depression is a serious, biological illness that leaked into their existence. And they definitely did not choose to be depressed. Why would anyone choose to have Lyme disease or polio? It’s beyond your control and being depressed is not a choice. Sure, there are ways to practice mental health, but no one can be 100% sure that depression will never happen to them. They did not choose to feel this way. Don’t forget that!
6. They may push you away
Among other complicated feelings, people with depression often feel guilty for being a burden to their close ones. They prefer to appear “busy” while secretly craving for a company. They often isolate themselves simply because they worry to much about burdening the close ones with their illness. Don’t force them to hang out together, but gently remind you are always here for them and will not stop loving them.
7. They can listen to your problems too
Dealing with their own problems, absolutely doesn’t mean they don’t want to (or can’t handle) listening to your problems and feelings. In fact, it helps them focus on something else than their own troubles, plus feel better for being a good friend/partner.
8. They can’t handle “tough-love” approach
If you think that you can “fix” them by making demands, creating ultimatums e.g. “I’ll break up with you if you don’t get better now!”, you are one step away from traumatising them even more! Depression isn’t something you can cure with threats and “tough love” approach. It’s unrealistic and manipulative of you.
9. They become easily overwhelmed
Don’t be mad when they suddenly cancel plans or choose to leave home early. It’s not about what you did or said. It’s just one of the side effects of having this condition. At one moment you feel great and full of enthusiasm, but just a few moments later overwhelming tiredness rolls in and all the energy is gone. You see, people with depression need more effort to get through their day. Small things can seem exhausting to them. Some days they have more energy left to do some good stuff, some days they finish up empty.
10. They have “good days”, but it doesn’t mean it’s all gone
People with depression can have “good days” when they are completely happy just as anyone else around. However, don’t swiftly assume they are no longer sick and would be cured forever. Depression isn’t as simple as that. Have fun with them today and help them get through tomorrow even if their condition returns in its worse.
11. They never mean to hurt you
Watching how your close one’s suffering from depression can be a painful experience. It’s hard to understand and accept their self-harm attempts, daily struggles and frequent crying.
Sadly, depression is a selfish disease. We can say harsh things, be mean, push you away, and do other unpleasant things we actually don’t mean to. It’s all out of tremendous hurt we are trying to deal with. And we often prefer to hurt ourselves instead, just not to hurt you (which is rather obscure as you suffer as well eventually). It’s challenging to love someone with depression, so we are very, very grateful you are here with us.
12. They understand when you get frustrated
People with depression perfectly understand how difficult it is for you to cope with their state. There’s no need to walk on eggshells when you’re around them. Yes, they need your love and support, but they also don’t expect complete self-sacrifice from you. Once your feeling boil up, don’t be afraid to talk with them about it and work a better strategy together! Set up appropriate boundaries and you’ll be good.
13. They are proud of small achievements
Things that may sound insignificant to you can mean the whole world to them. Getting out of bed today is an achievement, and so does going out or falling asleep easily for 3 days straight. Be proud of those small progresses even if they may seem minuscule to you. Remember, they will aim for bigger things once they get healthy. But for now, it’s the small things they should learn to accomplish daily.
14. They are loyal friends and partners
Yes, it’s challenging to be close with a depressed person. A lot of friends will leave them during their illness, however if you stick with them, you’ll have the most loyal friend you can ever imagine. The support and efforts you’ve made for them would be never forgotten. If you make it till the end together, you’ll share the bond very few people can boast of. They will always be there for you and you will never fight anything alone.
15. They will get better one day
As any physical illness, depression can be treated. One day, the storm will pass and you’ll find yourself next to an amazing person and grateful loyal friend for a lifetime!
Featured photo credit: gagilas via flickr.com