Depressive episodes are both emotionally and physically draining. It can be crippling, even. It can prevent us from thinking rationally, taking care of ourselves, taking care of household chores, having normal social interactions, and in severe cases, even working.
It is very hard to see someone you love struggling. You may or may not know what you can say, and you may or may not know what you can do. You may even feel like you can’t help at all. The good news is, that’s not entirely true, even if he or she tells you that you can’t help them.
Not everyone knows how to help someone with depression, and that’s okay. With that being said, it is important that you educate yourself if you fall into that category. Sometimes all a depressed person needs is someone who can empathize with them.
If you aren’t really sure what depression is really like, check out my post I wrote about what depression feels like. It’s uncensored and full of input from my good friends on Twitter. It’s worth a read if you want to get a glimpse of what living with depression can feel like.
Ways that you can help someone with depression
1. Ask how you can help. It may seem simple, but give him or her the opportunity to tell you what they need. They may not answer you, or they may tell you that they don’t know what you can do to help them, and that’s okay. The fact that you ask will mean something, because it will show us that you care and are making an effort to help.
2. Send a thoughtful text. If you’re thinking about someone who has been down lately or is struggling, text them and check in on them. Ask them how they’re doing, or give them a compliment. Simply say that you were thinking about them. Knowing that someone is actually thinking about us will mean a lot, even if we don’t say so.
I can be having the worst day imaginable and an “I love you” text from my husband will still put a smile on my face. Don’t underestimate how much you mean to that person.
3. Put together a care package with all of their favorite things and ask them when it is okay for you to stop by and deliver it to them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. Buy a $1 bag at the dollar store and fill it with some things they love. Maybe there’s a movie they’ve been wanting to see. Pack some of their favorite snacks. Get them a gift card to one of their favorite stores. If your loved one is a girl or woman, pack some self-care items they can pamper themselves with, like lotion, a bath bomb, a new luxurious loofah, or makeup.
4. One of the best things you can do is help with chores. This is especially important for significant others and family members. Household chores are usually among the first to go when a depressive episode is rearing its ugly face. This can be anything from sweeping to vacuuming to dishes to laundry. Not only will they not be getting done, but it often makes us feel stressed and guilty because they aren’t getting done. The worst part is, it’s not even our fault, but depression isn’t rational.
shawnabsnark from Twitter agrees. She says…
Help do your dishes or laundry. I know this sounds silly, but for me, those are the first things to go when I’m at a bad level. They are things that keep stressing me out further when they aren’t done….but make a huge positive impact on my view of my world when done.
— shawnabsnark (@shawnabsnark) July 4, 2018
5. Self-care is another one of those things that is among the first things to go when depression arises, and for some people, that includes eating. Offer to cook or bring over takeout. Ask them if it’s okay if you stay and eat with them and, if they say yes, that’s a great opportunity to talk to them and help put them at ease.
6. Don’t get frustrated or upset if we decline or cancel plans. When I’m experiencing a depressive episode, being around other people is the absolute last thing that I want to do. And the last thing that you should do is take it personal if they happen to cancel, because it likely has nothing to do with you.
7. Listen without trying to analyze and fix everything. When we’re venting, it’s usually because we need to let certain thoughts or emotions out, and not necessarily because we’re looking for a solution. In that moment, at least. So, try to refrain from responding with things like, “Well, have you thought about doing _________ (fill in the blank) to make it better?” or “You could always try _________ (fill in the blank).” Instead, just listen and try and understand our feelings and where they may be coming from. What we’re feeling in that moment may not always be rational, but it will mean a lot that you are trying to empathize with us.
Speaking from my own personal experiences, most of the time, I would prefer my husband listen to me and try to understand how I feel about something instead of trying to initiate a problem-solving brainstorming session.
8. Never invalidate our feelings. Everyone has a right to their own feelings. They may not always be rational, but that doesn’t make them any less real to that person. For that reason alone, they matter. Please don’t ever tell us to “get over it,” or “it’s not really that bad.”
9. Be there when they need it. And, by be there, I mean be present. If you’re wanting to be there for someone, be there physically and mentally.
For me, sitting in the same room with my husband can help immensely, assuming that he’s actually there and not lost in his phone. He used to get on his phone a lot when we would sit in the living room together. It made me feel like he wasn’t acknowledging that I was even in the room, which made me feel invisible. I know that it wasn’t intentional, but the thoughts my brain were telling me were so loud that I literally just could not take it. One day I finally had to say something to him, and it got better after that. I mention this because some people may not speak up like I eventually did.
10. Offer to pamper them. This is especially useful if your loved one is a girl or woman. Offer to brush her hair, clip and paint her nails, or give her a massage. Maybe she’d enjoy a facial or getting her makeup done!
11. If they ask you to leave them alone, it may be okay to do so as long as they aren’t exhibiting symptoms of suicidal behavior. Sometimes all we need is to be allowed to be alone for a while. The non-bolded items are sometimes not cause for immediate alarm. For instance, if they’re acting anxious, maybe they have a school assignment due soon, or a job interview tomorrow. If they’re withdrawing or isolating themselves, maybe they just got bad news. You should still show care and concern by attempting to figure out what is bothering them, but be aware that not every single negative feeling that a person is experiencing means that they are thinking about suicide.
With that being said, the bolded items are usually a sign that someone has or is actively thinking about harming themselves or suicide. This may not be true for everyone, and it varies from person to person. Speaking from personal experience and after speaking with others who have had suicidal thoughts, I am trying to give you the best advice possible. If your loved one is, in fact, exhibiting signs of any of the bolded symptoms, I highly suggest not leaving them alone.
If there is an asterisk (*) by the item, please get help immediately by taking them to the nearest ER Department or by calling 9-1-1!
Note that I am referring to them as “symptoms.” Please keep in mind that your loved one has a mental illness. The items below are symptoms of that illness. Most survivors of suicide don’t actually want to die, which is why they should receive professional help as soon as possible.
Some (not all) signs of potentially suicidal behavior
- Acting anxious or easily agitated
- Withdrawing or isolation
- Displaying rage or extreme mood swings
- Drastic changes in sleeping habits
- Drastic changes in eating habits
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Behaving recklessly, as if they don’t care about being in harm’s way
- Talking about feeling trapped*
- Talking about death or killing oneself*
- Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless*
- Talking about feeling like a burden to others*
Please get help
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 9-1-1. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone! Stay there and call 911 immediately.
What has worked for you when dealing with a depressive episode? Please let me know in the comments!