A total of 322 million people in the world are living with depression, equivalent to 4.3% of the world’s population. Yet, help is not easily available. Many people struggle to help because it’s not something that’s easily understood. For instance, when someone we love has a fever or a cold, we instantly know what to do, but with depression, we flounder. The situation is so bad that people with depression struggle not only for help but for the recognition of their illness itself.
Even within families, it’s difficult to open up because of the shame around seeking help. But if you feel that someone in your family is lonely or depressed, make sure you are there for them. Here are 10 simple ways you can help:
People who suffer from depression often feel hopeless and alone. The first step you should take is to tell them that they are not alone. Remind them that they can approach you for any help if they need to. And yeah, sometimes sitting together silently helps too, as long as the other person knows someone is there for them.
It can be hard to come out from a place where you feel isolated. Don’t keep asking them to do something they necessarily don’t want to, just because you think it’ll make them feel better. In reality, it might make them feel like they’re being pushed in the corner. And at worst, it will make them feel even more alone.
Depression can manifest itself in different ways for different people. The internet is a great resource for you to learn about it – from symptoms to finding helplines and/or doctors. It can also help you avoid missteps and unnecessary confrontations. Look up things which you should say or shouldn’t say. For example, don’t say things like, “Get over it” or “It’s just a phase”. This will further cement their belief that what’s happening to them isn’t ‘big enough’ to be taken seriously. Instead, you can say things like, “I’m here if you want to talk to me” or “You are not alone”.
Help your loved one open up. Respond to them when they speak about their feelings, acknowledge the problems that they’re talking about. Be interested. Ensure that they understand that you’re willing to listen to them without being judgmental.
This may sound like a no-brainer but understand where they’re coming from. They may get angry or irritated quickly, sometimes even at you. But don’t push back. Try to understand the position they’re lashing out from.
Helping someone can easily spill into unnecessary advice. Don’t do that. Rather than telling them what to do and what not to do (which may sound patronising), ask them how you can help or how they feel. Let them be the decision-makers around their own health, but help where you can.
Gently suggest that they can seek help from a therapist, and help them access one if they’re open to it. Help them find medication but don’t push them to do so. Don’t demand that they go to the doctor and insist that you have a better understanding of their situation. You might suggest a check-up with a general physician rather than a therapist, as a way to start out. And if they do go to a therapist, ask to go with them on the first visit to offer support.
Things we do every day may suddenly seem very difficult to manage for a person with depression. Pitch in with little things – like washing the dishes – and also ease them out into you helping them. Working together may give them a lesser sense of isolation and also reinforce the fact that they are not alone.
Depression can make you feel sluggish and disinclined to do much. But activity is important and can be a great stress buster too. Plan a thing or two every few weeks, maybe even once a week. These don’t have to be grandiose things; they might be something like a trip to their favourite cafe, or just going out for a walk in the park. It’ll both be a change in scenery as well as give them something to look forward to. They may not always agree, but that doesn’t mean you should stop asking. Don’t be persistent, but do ask.
Depression is a wide-ranging illness and some people may live with it their whole lives. Understand that you’re not there to ‘cure’ them. This doesn’t make their illness any less valid. And that’s something you may have to accept. Don’t get frustrated if change isn’t happening fast enough and be patient. It’s the little things that matter.
With so much silence around depression (or any other mental health issue, for that matter), it’s no wonder that helping someone deal with it is a daunting prospect. Especially knowing that there’s no ‘right’ answer or ‘correct’ way to deal with the issue. We may often feel that our support is inconsequential, but we need to remember that every little attempt counts. The biggest setback for anyone struggling with depression is isolation, so being there and making sure they know it can leave a lasting impression.