Have you ever experienced a feeling of helplessness when a loved one or friend has struggled with depression? We don’t want to see our loved ones in pain, but it’s not always clear how to provide the appropriate support for what they are going through. We may end up saying things that we think they want to hear that either add fuel to the fire, or just simply are not helpful. Depression is an emotional struggle that prevents logic and reason from helping someone feel better. We can point out all the good things from our perspective, and then end up frustrated that our friend or loved one both isn’t feeling any better, and now has probably asked you to stop talking.
If you want to read part one to this post, “Depression: Re-Building the Self,” click here.
Here are six ways to be supportive and nurturing to a person struggling with depression:
A frustrating part of going through a struggle with depression is when people minimize or discount it as laziness or something that’s more easily controllable. Being able to show a person you accept their struggle and are there for them without judgment is valuable for being supportive.
A person dealing with depression often doesn’t feel that people care, which can cause them to emotionally shut down. Showing you want to be there for them, even just by listening, indicates that you care about what they’re going through, and can help build trust that you are someone they can count on.
3. Push, but lightly and cautiously
The lack of motivation can be frustrating for both the person going through the depression and also for the people around them. It’s okay to help push someone forward, but monitor the difference between offering a hand and forcing someone to go where they’re clearly not ready to go. This gentle push can be into therapy if needed, or it can be to go outside, go out to lunch, or even just to take a shower, etc. Be on their side and work as a team.
4. Give Space
As with gently pushing, this is a complicated one to judge at times. We don’t want to see someone wallowing in depressive symptoms, however we also don’t want to overwhelm them to go forward too fast. So while it’s okay to push gently, as suggested above, at times it’s important to give space in order to not overwhelm someone emotionally. When a person wants space, it’s often because they are becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Basically, pushing and giving space is a constant see-saw act, and part of the frustration for others is the stress of managing which one is appropriate in the moment. If you know your loved one well, the hope is that the cues of which way to go will be visible to you. For example — signs of energy can show a push may be accepted; or signs of irritability may show some space is necessary.
Especially if dealing with a close loved one suffering from depression (i.e. partner, immediate family) where we are constantly involved, it could be very helpful to have psychotherapy of our own. When a person is depressed, it often compromises their ability to be fully supportive to others and often increases our own need of outside support. Psychotherapy could be helpful for personal support, but also for processing the expected frustrations of dealing with the depression of a loved one. Having psychotherapy can provide this outlet, and also help prevent arguments and battles from emotions that may build up. Psychotherapy can also be helpful as a tool to provide better support for our loved one.
6. Unconditional Love and Support
One of the best ways we can be supportive is by showing our loved one that we love and support them unconditionally. Nobody chooses depression, and it’s part of the symptoms to not be motivated or desire to move forward at times. Most people suffering from depression want to feel well and happy and motivated to enjoy their lives. Showing our loved ones judgment or irritation will only lead to them feeling we can’t be trusted to be supportive — it won’t create the wake-up call we hope for.
As discussed in part 1, depression can be the result of life events and/or biochemistry. However, a large component to chronic depression is the feeling and perception of being alone — that nobody loves or supports them, and that they can’t trust anyone will be there when they need. While our unconditional love and support may not fully cure our loved one, the hope is to create an environment where they will be able to trust that we are there with them, and that with us beside them they will feel comfortable and supported to start moving forward.
Woman helping another woman photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 15 Sep 2012