If you live with someone who is depressed, here are a few pointers for you:
- A depressed person is different from the real person. Even if you know the real person you have to see him/her differently.
- What a depressed person needs is gentleness, understanding, comfort. Not a kick in the butt.
- Don’t take anything a depressed person says personally, nor think of it as something coming from the real person. A depression has its own mind, separate from the real person.
- A depression’s impulse is to drag everyone else down. You can’t let it. Honor your boundaries and take care of yourself. If you get sick right along, who is going to take care of the depressed person?
- As much as possible, allow the depressed person to sleep, rest and do nothing. Depression is an over-extended, exhausted mind. It needs to rest. A depression is made better by feeling the uncomfortable feeling behind it, but that’s also taxing, exhausting work. So be gentle and kind and encourage him/her to take it easy.
- In very, very gentle terms, ask her/him if s/he knows that s/he is in depression. That this is not the time to trust or listen to oneself, because that self is ill. Very carefully ask if you can make decisions on her/his behalf. Most of the times you shouldn’t force this issue, but trust your instinct and intervene if you feel you must.
- If the depression speaks, don’t deny what it says by saying things like “things aren’t that bad” or “don’t be so pessimistic.” Instead, respond by either repeating or summarizing the feeling behind what it’s saying. So if the depression says “I’m not getting any better,” then say “so you feel hopeless.” This is not empowering depression — rather, you’re showing your understanding. Depression gets fueled by loneliness, and by showing your understanding you’re deflating that fuel. Even if the depression says “I want to die” I’d respond “does it hurt that bad?” A desire for death is a reasonable response to someone in dire pain, but again saying “don’t say that” only adds to it.
- But if the depression starts discussing concrete plans/actions/intentions of how it wants to kill her/himself, disengage. Try to gently distract him/her to pay attention to something else and get professional help.
- That said, if the depression asks you something, respond with positive attitude. Even if you have to fake that positive attitude. That’s different from the above, when the depression is expressing what it’s feeling. I’ve been asked “do you think I’ll get better?” and to that I responded yes, even when I wasn’t so sure myself. Depression is a disease that robs someone the ability to hope. So those around her/him have to do the extra lifting, not by asking them to hope (they can’t) but by being hopeful yourself.
It’s very, very difficult to live with someone suffering from depression. It’s hard because it’s hard to understand or relate — this state of mind is not normal and a mind in the “normal” range has a hard time connecting. Learn to take it easy, let go of all your expectations and be quick to forgive.
Please note that I’m not a mental health professional. I am just sharing what I learned from my personal experience. Please consult a professional if at all possible.