The holidays are supposed to be time for cheer and family and goodwill. For some people with depression, this can be incredibly difficult. Others who have not been around a person with mental illness may not understand what we’re going through. The holidays can be chaotic. Our routines are interrupted by travel or guests and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. This is all in addition to having to cope with the symptoms of depression. If you are spending time with someone who is suffering from depression during the holidays, here are five actions you can take to help us.
1 Recognize the symptoms
Knowing what to look for will help you understand what we’re going through. There are several major symptoms of depression:
- Depressed mood (sadness or feeling empty)
- Loss of interest in activities or relationships
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Physical agitation or retardation
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Indecisiveness or diminished ability to concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
2 Understand we don’t want this.
Depression is not something we choose to have. It happens to us, not because of us. We don’t want to feel down or have trouble with sleeping and eating. We don’t want to be tired all the time. We want to want to enjoy everything happening around us, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Please don’t say things like “just cheer up” or “you make your own happiness.” It won’t help and may just make us feel guilty.
3 Don’t push us to drink.
Many people with depression also have issues with substance use or abuse. Alcohol can be a trigger for some, causing mood swings or worsening symptoms. We realize that having a drink or two can be enjoyable for some people, but that may not be the case for everyone with depression. Alcohol can also worsen depression in the long run. If we are able to drink in a healthy manner, we can choose to do so. If you offer a drink and we decline, don’t give us a hard time about it.
4 Give us some space.
Depression saps energy. It can come with overwhelming fatigue and problems sleeping. Because of this we may not have the energy to go and do all the time. It’s not that we don’t want to spend time with friends or family, it’s that we may not emotionally or physically be able to handle it. It may be necessary to nap during the day or just have some quiet time to ourselves. Please let us have this so that we can enjoy the rest of our time with you. Don’t guilt us for not participating in everything, but support us in what we can do.
5 Be patient and supportive.
Depression can last for months at a time, even with treatment, so don’t expect us to perk up after a day or two. We need you to be patient with our behavior and patient with our healing. You can also employ a few simple phrases to let us know you’re thinking about us and that you care.
- “I’m here for you and I care what happens to you.”
- “I may not understand what you’re going through, but I still support you.”
- “You may not feel like it now, but this will get better.”
Another, more long-term way you may be able to help someone year-round is by encouraging them and helping them to seek treatment. Offer to take them to see a doctor or therapist or pick up medication from the pharmacy. It can be difficult and scary for people to seek help on their own. Knowing they have a support system can make a big difference.
All of this is not to say that someone coping with depression is going to have a horrible time during the holidays. We can still enjoy the festivities and the company, it just might be a struggle at times. We also may not always say it, but we appreciate your help.
Image credit: OiMax