When your best friend is sad over a breakup, a girls’ day at the spa might be just the thing to help get her out of the slump and feeling like herself once more. Or when your brother is in the dumps about his job loss, helping him spruce up his resume could lift his spirits and give him hope again.
We can all agree that it feels wonderful to be able to make a difference when a loved one is sad or disappointed or just bummed out. But when someone you love is suffering from depression, the things that used to work to cheer him up won’t anymore. In fact, sometimes the harder you try, the worse it seems to get.
This is because depression is not a mood. It’s a mental health condition that often requires therapeutic treatment to recover. Remembering this can be the key to both helping your loved one and maintaining your sanity. Here are a few more important things to remember when someone you love suffers from depression:
Depression is real
When we want the best for someone, we sometimes assume we know what “the best” is. We want to help, so we say things like, “Maybe you just need to lighten up,” or “I think you should get out of the house.” Saying these things to someone with depression does not help. If your sister could “snap out of it,” she would. Depression is real, and no one chooses it.
Tip: Educate yourself on the science of depression. It could help you have a clearer understanding of what’s happening with your loved one.
You can’t fix it
Cookies won’t work. A week at Disneyland won’t work. You can try and you can try to make your loved one happy, but the more you do with the intention of making it all better, the more frustrated you’ll both become. You’ll feel bad because nothing is working, and he’ll feel bad to see you trying so hard while he’s still unable to “shake it off.”
Tip: It’s wonderful to do kind things for your loved one. But try to do them in the spirit of letting him know you care rather than in the spirit of “fixing” him.
It’s not about you
Depression will often cause a person to withdraw or isolate from the people around her. When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone who is depressed, it’s easy to take it personally and assume that her sadness has something to do with you. Try not to follow this line of thinking. Even if the relationship was not perfect before the depression set in (they never are, by the way), the depression is not a reflection of you.
Tip: If you have a tendency to blame yourself about the suffering of a loved one, find someone to talk to who can help you keep a clear head.
Compassion and empathy are wonderful virtues to employ in the company of someone with depression, but it’s equally important that you’re compassionate with yourself. When someone you love is suffering from depression, you are going to experience frustration, which is both understandable and OK. You are allowed to feel sad, to miss the way things used to be, and to want things to be different. Give yourself the space to feel what you feel. Be gentle with yourself.
Tip: Do something fun and pleasurable for yourself. This can go a long way toward replenishing yourself.
Help is available
Your loved one does not have to suffer alone. Neither do you. Health care professionals can provide treatment options for the person suffering from depression as well as support options for you. Treatment for the depression may include psychotherapy or medication or both. Recommendations for loved ones may include journaling, talk therapy, or support groups.
Tip: If you’re not sure how to approach your loved one about seeking help, talk to your health care provider. He or she will be able to help you.
We’re here for you
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, we can help. At the Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, we offer both inpatient and outpatient programs designed to treat depression and other mood disorders. Our health care professionals are highly trained, extremely competent, and deeply caring. We offer outstanding support to families as well as those suffering from depression, addiction, and mental illness.
To find out more about our programs, services, and our inpatient admissions process, please give us a call.
We’re here for you.