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10 Compassionate Ways to Support Loved Ones Suffering from Depression

10 Compassionate Ways to Support Loved Ones Suffering from Depression

Depression is a very serious, isolating, but treatable disorder that affects millions of people of all ages from all walks of life. Depression causes tremendous emotional and physical pain, hurting not only those suffering from it, but affecting the people around them as well.

If your loved one is struggling with depression, you yourself, may also be experiencing a variety of difficult emotions including frustration, guilt, helplessness, anger, fear, and sadness. This is completely normal. It’s not easy dealing with a family or friend’s depression, and many times, you will be left feeling helpless and confused. But as pointless as it may seem at times, please know your support IS significant.

Here are 10 ways you can compassionately and effectively support your loved one who is struggling with depression.

1. Acknowledge that depression is a serious illness and should not be underestimated.

Depression is a medical condition. Do not confuse this with the emotion of “feeling sad & depressed.” Most people still believe that depression is due to personal weakness, laziness, and even lack of religion, and as such, minimize the sufferer’s pain and struggles; adding more feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and shame to the depressed.

It’s important to understand that depression is not a choice and sufferers cannot simply “snap out of it.” By understanding that depression is a real illness, you will be able to better support your loved one with compassion, patience, and an open mind.

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2. Be there.

Simply sitting with your loved one while they cry, or quietly holding their hand as they struggle through their thoughts and emotions can be more helpful than trying to give advice or encouraging them to be physically active. Be aware that they could be feeling exhausted or irritable and may not be very pleasant company. It’s important you do not to take this personally because these are just byproducts of the illness.

Offering to accompany them to therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments can be an incredible act of support as well. By doing this, you’re showing your loved one that you believe that what they’re struggling with is very real, and will not brush it off as something unimportant.

3. Release judgment.

Depression is not a weakness or personality flaw; it is a medical illness. Most people suffering from depression already feel ashamed, weakened, and worthless, so judging and criticizing them will do nothing other than make a painful situation even worse, and possibly isolate you from your loved one.

It’s critical that you open yourself to accept the seriousness of the illness, in order to offer genuine support and compassion for your loved one who is struggling with this most painful, exhausting, and lonely condition.

4. Let them know they’re not alone in this.

Struggling with depression can feel like navigating alone through a strange, long, dark tunnel that no one else can understand or believe. It will be important for you to clearly communicate to your loved one that they don’t have to travel this path alone.

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Let them know you are an ally—communicate to them that you believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll see them through. “It’s you & me vs. depression. Let’s beat this.”

5. Encourage treatment.

Some people with depression don’t even realize that they have it, so seeking professional help doesn’t even cross their minds. And many times, those who suffer from depression feel too ashamed to admit they are, or convince themselves to believe it can be overcome with time and willpower. It’s rare for depression sufferers to get better without treatment.

Discuss the various treatment types with your loved one. If they are not yet receiving professional help, they may feel a sense of shame, weakness, or defeat which can hinder them from taking any action. Volunteering to schedule a doctor’s appointment or to accompany them to see a counselor will help lighten the pressure and stress in taking these next positive steps.

If your loved one is strongly opposing treatment or shows damaging and harmful behaviors, please contact a doctor or other mental health professional for advice.

6. Avoid “motivating” your loved one to “snap out” of depression.

What you say certainly can have a powerful impact on your loved one. Statements such as: “You need to focus on the good things in your life instead of the bad” simply imply that your loved one actually has a choice in how they feel and have chosen to be depressed. No matter how good your intentions may be, the depressed person will find it insensitive and possibly isolate themselves from you even more.

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7. Don’t minimize their pain or offer personal advice.

Glossing over their difficulties with statements such as: “Why must you be so sensitive” or “Just get through today because tomorrow will be better” invalidates their struggles through this very serious illness, and instead, makes them feel ashamed and inadequate by implying weakness or a personal flaw.

And unless you’ve personally suffered from depression, you’ll quickly find that telling your loved one you know how they feel will not be very helpful. While your intention may be to help them feel less alone in their despair, comparing a depressed person’s suffering to a hardship such as a recent breakup or a terrible fight with a close friend will only create more distance between you and your loved one.

What’s possibly helpful is to suggest something simple such as: “How about we get some air outside while we talk?” because it opens up space for your loved one to share their thoughts and emotions with you, with less pressure or feelings of judgement, shame, and guilt.

8. Let them know that depression isn’t their fault.

It’s very important for the healing process, to communicate with your loved one that depression isn’t their fault. Many sufferers feel they are depressed because they did something wrong, there is something wrong with them, or they’re too weak to function properly.

Depression is an illness. People struggling with depression need to know they did not choose to be depressed—just as cancer patients don’t choose to have cancer.

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It is just as important that YOU know this too.

9. Ask what they’re thinking.

Don’t be afraid to check in with your loved one who is suffering from depression and ask what they’re thinking. Many people believe asking a depressed person for their thoughts will provoke harmful ideas. Nothing can be further than the truth. Whatever is in your loved one’s mind is there whether you ask about it or not. Asking will not make them worse, but NOT asking risks not knowing about something that could be lethal.

If you believe your loved one is considering suicide, don’t be afraid to ask. Again, doing this will not provoke harmful ideas, but instead, allow your loved one to possibly open up to treatment. Please keep in mind that thoughts of suicide for a depressed person is not an act of selfishness. Depression clouds judgment and completely distorts one’s thoughts, causing them to believe death is the only solution to end the excruciating pain they are feeling.

If you believe they are at an immediate risk for suicide, do not leave them alone. Dial 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

10. Be gentle with yourself.

Helping someone you love as they struggle through depression can be exhausting and draining, both mentally and physically. Making sure your own needs are being met is not an act of selfishness. If you are not well, you will not be effective for yourself or your loved ones. Your health and strength will allow you to provide the comfort and support your depressed friend or family member needs.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, maintaining healthy emotional boundaries, and getting some fun time for yourself.

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Carmen Sakurai

Mental Declutter, Stress Management & Burnout Prevention Coach. Feeling Stuck? Overwhelmed & No Energy? Let's Talk!

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Last Updated on January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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