how to be there for someone with depression

There are two ways of dealing with people being completely unhelpful towards you.

The automatic reaction is to resent them, which there’s no point in doing. A second option is to figure out what you can do to change how you feel about it.

If someone’s being a dick to you, it usually hurts because there’s nothing you can do about it. It takes your power away and it makes you feel helpless, which in turn makes you more angry and upset. It’s vicious and draining.

The other option (which I often forget about) is to do something which makes you feel powerful and purposeful again, because you’re choosing not to be a victim.

This choice applies to everyone in any situation where somebody is being a dick.

That’s kind of the origin behind why I’m writing this.

I wrote a piece about the importance of taking just one day out of the ordinary, not scheduled, to regain some kind of will to live. 

After taking a day out for myself, despite the fact that I rediscovered so many things to be grateful for, I found myself stewing in the shower that evening about how unfair it was for people to have spoken to me in a certain way. I was angry about the doctor who did that man thing of showing no empathy or understanding, I was angry at people close to me who criticised me so much. I was angry about how as a child I was punished for struggling with life, how people have often blamed me for my mental health saying it’s “all in my head” or how “it’s my fault for being so difficult”. I know now that none of that is true, and I’m disheartened about the fact that I now have to work through a massive trauma where I feel like an unloveable burden. 

While I am immensely grateful for my friends, that’s the dark side of learning to feel loved. Realising all the injustices in life which resulted in you feeling so unloved.

Ultimately, there’s nothing I can do about what has happened, and will probably happen again throughout my life from time to time.

If I can’t change it happening, I can change what I do about it. I can either stand in the shower and stew about it until the end of time, reducing myself to a bitter and hateful, quite unloveable figure, or I can explain to the world how treating someone in that way is an absolute load of horse shit.  At least that way I know that I’ve kind of done my bit.

So I am here before you, changing the script, and attempting to enlighten those of you who don’t know how to deal with a persons mental health. 

I do understand that mental health is a difficult thing to understand. It’s such a new concept. If anything, I applaud any reader wanting to understand for sitting here and taking the time to educate themselves.

I know it’s frustrating feeling helpless in the face of a loved one who seems to be withering away. I know it’s frustrating when your black and white logic doesn’t seem to work in this persons complex and grayscale life. I know that you want to change them, but you can’t.

The fact of the matter is that the more you put pressure on this person, the further they are going to run from you, because they feel bad enough without the added weight of a person telling them what a shit job of life they are doing.

Even if that’s not what you’re intending to do, it’s how it may come across.

If a person doesn’t listen to you or take your advice, do not tell them off. If a person sees something differently to you, don’t punish them for it.

If you’re frustrated at them, angry at them, upset with them for being as they are- you simply cannot be around them. Chances are, your company isn’t helping them as much as their company isn’t helping you; regardless of your intent. If they know you’re there, they will come to you when they need you. Check in every now and then if you feel it’s important but don’t stubbornly stay there and wait for the relationship to turn sour as a result. 

It’s also important to consider the possibility that you may not be right. You may not know what is best for this person despite insisting that you do, and intensifying your desire for them to follow a certain set of instructions may be detrimental to their process.

You may (somewhat) be in the wrong, and that is a tough pill to swallow. You need space for that.

If you aren’t in such a predicament, and you’re a more distant friend just wanting to be there, here’s a disclaimer.

A depressed person will likely be difficult to be around. If you can’t understand why, don’t bother. Just use human empathy. If they’re pushing you away, let them. It’s their process. They will return, it’s not about you it’s about them. If they’re snappy, or rude, try to see it as a reflection of them feeling unheard, unable to talk, frustrated, unsalvageable. It’s not because you said or did anything wrong. You can put them right without arguing, you can simply say “no need for that” and go about your day. Someone will show you the same understanding one day and you will feel eternally grateful.

Do what you can. You don’t have to solve the problem. Please do not overextend yourself trying to cheer somebody up because you will likely be very disappointed when this person doesn’t know how to react to a grand gesture.

Just hug them when there’s nothing else you can do, offer to run errands with them or go for a meal, just be around them. They will feel an immense gratitude at the way you give them the time of day, maybe even a compliment and a chat.

They will not feel gratitude or any kind of positive emotion for being shouted at because they’re so “blind” or “ungrateful”.  The whole reason they have got to this point is because they began seeing themselves as useless, unable to give back, a burden. They don’t need that reaffirmed to them and doing so isn’t going to suddenly ‘wake them up’.

Finally, remind them what good they can do in return. Is there a favour you want done that they can do? Is there a friend who’s work needs promoting? Is there a talent of theirs that somebody is in need of?

To be friends with somebody with depression is reminding them that they are of value. That’s how you get them back.

If you love somebody who is going through something, you’ll be there when you can and you’ll distance yourself when it’s too much. That is all you can do.

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