Walking Alongside Depression - 4 Ways to Support Your Loved One
“My lips say, ‘Fine, thanks,‘ but my eyes tell a different story, my heart sings a different tune, and my soul just weeps.” - Sherry Amatenstein
Given that 1 out of every 6 people will experience depression at one time in their life, you may find yourself interacting with a loved one who is currently struggling with depression. Most of us want to be able to help and support a loved one with depression, but we may not know how to do so effectively.
“Depression...is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act."
Some contributing factors include biochemistry, genetics, personality, and other environmental factors. Common treatments are counseling, medication, lifestyle changes (exercise, healthier diet, and avoiding alcohol), or a combination of the three. However, this does not tell us how we can best support our loved ones. Here are four tips on how to do so:
Avoid giving advice
If you know someone with depression, most people want them to get better. After all, nobody wants a loved one to suffer. This good desire can lead to many well-intentioned suggestions. However, depression can be overwhelming and self-blame can creep in to the sufferer’s mind. As a result, advice does not tend to be helpful and may even be discouraging. Does that mean you can’t ever give advice? No. However, advice should be given delicately, with express permission, and only after hearing and understanding the experience of the person suffering from depression. I’ll explain more in #3.
Give affirmation and understanding
Struggling with depression can feel lonely and isolating. It may be hard to remember how many people love and support you. As a result, affirmations can be reassuring for those suffering with depression. You can let the person know that you love them, or care for them, or are there to support them. You may even offer to listen to their experience and struggles with depression.
How to suggest changes
Suggestions (NOT opinions or advice) can be beneficial to someone with depression. It may encourage them to seek professional help and demonstrate care. As discussed in #1, this can be difficult and may not be well received. This is where you may try the LIP method of suggesting changes:
L - Listen: First, ask how they are doing with their struggles. If they are willing, ask questions until you get a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing. This step
alone can provide a reassuring level of support and feeling understood. Listening sends a message that you care and want to be a support.
I - Investigate: Second, ask them what they have tried, what they have heard might help, and how they feel about their journey. The goal here is to understand what they have tried and help them feel heard.
P - Probe: Third, probe to see if they are willing to hear your suggestion. You might say something like “I read a blog post on treatments for depression, are you interested in hearing more?” This empowers your loved one to say no if they are unable to receive a suggestion. In this way, they may be more receptive to the suggestions if they agree. However, if they still do not want to hear your suggestions, it is important to respect their wishes.
Do not overextend yourself
This piece is important. It can be easy to overextend ourselves trying to help someone with depression. It can be easy to place too high a burden on ourselves, so it is helpful to remember three key things:
● Your role is to support, not to cure - It is the responsibility of the individual (and their medical professional) to treat depression. Your role is to support.
● If they withdraw and do not want to interact, it is not personal - Those with depression may not feel up to doing much or may feel overwhelmed. If they don’t want to make plans or cancel plans last minute, you can just reassure them that you love them and are there for them.
● Only do what you can - If you find yourself overextending yourself, communicate that to your loved one and let them know what you can (and can’t) do to support them sustainably
BIO: Chris Crockett is currently serving as a Counseling Intern at the MTS Counseling Center and completing his degree with Wheaton College. Chris views counseling as a place for accelerated growth that utilizes the client’s own strengths while providing them with skills to move forward.