From the outside looking in it makes no sense. The lack of emotion, the lack of desire to do the things they wanted to do before, the crying for no reason – all confusing. But here’s the thing: from the inside it’s just as senseless.
Most of the time we don’t know why we are in the state we are in. Sure, some people go through major life changes or tragedy and depression is a natural result. In those cases we may be able to articulate to you the reasons, we may be able to make sense of the darkness.
It’s more common that there is no outside reason for the darkness that surrounds us. As much as I’m sure the tragedy scenario is horrible, I can attest to the fact that feeling the downward spiral of depression for no apparent reason is frightening. It doesn’t get much worse than feeling like your own mind is turning against you.
While depression is a journey that you walk alone, there are ways friends and family can help us through it, ways we need help to get through it. The more a person dealing with depression isolates himself, the more likely that the spiral will go deeper and deeper. We need to be drawn out gently, with love and patience. And there are a few things we need you to know:
1. There is a difference between “feeling depressed” and dealing with the disease of depression.
Everyone has times in his or her life when they feel depressed; it’s part of our human existence. Yes, you have had valid times of “feeling depressed” and I’m sure being reminded of all the good things in your life helped you. Going to the beach with friends or having a good laugh brightened your outlook. This is not the same thing. In fact, if you remind us that “some people are dealing with real things like cancer and death and yada yada” it can actually cause us to spiral further down. We know these things and are already confused about why this doesn’t help us, please don’t remind us again.
2. Don’t take it personally; it’s not your fault.
It’s very easy for someone close to a person dealing with depression to wonder if they did something to cause it. You didn’t. The hard truth is that being around someone dealing with this day in and day out can be hurtful, depression hurts everyone it comes into contact with.
3. You will not be able to “fix” us, so it’s better for both parties if you don’t try.
When you’ve never dealt with this condition yourself then your advice is not only not welcome, it could be hurtful. All the sunshine and rainbows in the world cannot drive away our emptiness. Just be there. Listen. Validate our feelings without making us feel like they make us weak or wrong.
4. Ask us how we are doing and genuinely listen when we answer.
It’s very hard to articulate to anyone what we’re feeling and because of that we shy away from it. Draw us out; we need to talk. In her book When We Were On Fire, Addie Zierman explains it so well: “This is another thing about depression, it seems to exist somewhere outside of language, and I cannot wrangle it. I can’t seem to wrestle it into a manageable size using the thing I have always been able to use: words. I reach into the great cloud of unnamed feelings, but no matter how I try, I can’t find the one true thing.”
We want to talk about it, we know we need to talk about, it’s just hard to “wrangle it” into words so please be patient.
5. Please don’t make it sound like this isn’t a big deal or use Christian clichés to try to make us feel better.
This is a big deal. It’s not just a blue day or something that can be helped with a joke or a hug. Reminding us to “let go and let God” or that we should pray more will do nothing except bring guilt and probably a little anger.
6. Encourage us to get help.
Whether it’s talking to the pastor or a counselor or going to the doctor, we need encouragement for this step. Depression is embarrassing; it’s not something we want to admit to people. It feels like weakness, so having someone close to us persistently encourage us to take the next step in recovery may be the only reason we ever do.
7. Pay special attention to us if we are single.
There is a vast difference between dealing with this disease as someone who is married or as someone who is single. Married people have others around them constantly, they have built in support whether the spouse knows how to support them or not. Singles, most of the time, do not. We need friends. Not a friend who will ask how we’re doing and hope for a “fine,” but friends who will dig deeper, who will push when they need to, and will walk alongside us through this sometimes long journey.
I’m sure those of you who have dealt with this before could add a dozen more ideas to this list. Saying this list is all we need would be like saying that a pill will cure diabetes and there is no other change you need to make in your life. But it is a start, and we need so badly for you to make that start.
What do your friends who deal with depression need? We need to know we’re not alone. We need to know we are loved and cared for.
We need you.
For those of you with experience with depression, what other things would you add to the list? Also, if you know someone who wants to help a friend or family member who is struggling with depression, would you email this post to them?