I was just talking about this with someone. If I said my kid had been in a car accident or had cancer, I'd get casseroles and prayers and offers to help. Saying my kid has severe depression and anxiety instead draws criticism, accusations that I have failed as a parent, and general negativity and avoidance. Saying I have struggled with it usually means I am written off as unstable, crazy, weak, and generally less reliable as a person. Depression is a real, serious medical condition. It is something that can be seen on MRIs and in autopsies. It is something that requires medical intervention to treat. It is something that whole families are affected by. It is also something that CAN be treated and there are ways to have positive conversations with people who are in the middle of it.
Worried about someone? The best way to talk to someone who has depression is to simply ask how you can help and be a support. This doesn't mean walking on eggshells assuming you have the power to push them over the edge, and it doesn't mean enabling unhealthy behavior such as staying in bed all day, avoiding all social interaction, self-medicating with alcohol, etc. Help and support is often just listening while the person talks themselves through a bad episode. It means letting them know they have a support person. Sometimes just knowing that there is someone out there who is willing to listen makes all the difference. It means giving them options and alternatives because they may not know that help and recovery are possible. It can also mean going that extra mile occasionally. Every task is overwhelming when in the grips of a bad depression episode. Some things you may have to do include:
- Helping with things like connecting to professional resources
- List of most common treatments for depression from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Map connecting people to treatment resources in their states from Hope For Depression
- Contacting insurance companies to find out which resources are covered (or helping the person find an insurance program if they are uninsured) and to make appointments
- Take the person grocery shopping for healthy foods
- This not only gets them buying and eating things with the intent of promoting their health, foods which will give them the extra energy their bodies need as they fight their depression, it also gets them out of their rooms and moving, interacting with at least one other person, and focusing on something other than their depressive thoughts.
- This is called opposite action. More information about opposite action can be found here through Now Matters Now.
- Removing methods from homes (if they express suicidal ideations and say they have a method in mind, remove access to tools to complete that plan such as sharp objects, guns, medications, etc)
- Learn more about removing lethal means here from Now Matters Now
- Opening the curtains. Literally.
- This sounds like a little thing, but trust me it can be harder than it sounds. Depression causes a desire to burrow away into a cave. The person will most likely fight having the curtains opened up to let sunlight in.
- This is also part of the opposite action technique for surviving depression, but it is one thing that is often overlooked and often needs another person to do for the person with depression.
- If you know they have a plan and are afraid they will follow through with it, you can take them to an ER or if you are out of town you can call the police to request a well check. Sure the person will not like either option, but keeping them alive is better than avoiding annoying them. As long as they are alive they have a chance at recovery.
If you are not sure if a friend or family member is struggling, the best thing to do is ask them. Also, watch their behavior closely to look for these clues from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. People with depression are really good at hiding it, but subtle slips do happen. Pretending to be healthy is exhausting and can't be maintained 24/7. You can also keep the Five Signs in mind as you interact people.
Don't be afraid to start the conversation. They are most likely wishing someone would, but they think either people don't care or that they will be negatively judged or that the whole situation is hopeless so what's the point. Be the life saver and let them know they don't have to drown.