The thing that’s almost as hard as suffering a clinical depression is when you have a loved one who suffers from it.
While there are resources available for those suffering from depression, there is less support for those who have to care for them. So here are some pointers for those who have loved ones suffering a severe depression.
- Take care of yourself. If you remember just one message from this, please remember this one. Being with a depressed person is tremendously taxing. Be sure to take breaks and meet your own needs. You’re not going help anyone by collapsing yourself. I highly recommend seeking counseling yourself to deal with the emotional scars from being with and caring for a depressed.
- Understand that a depressed person is not the person you know. (S)He has become a different person, one who doesn’t remember the original. He doesn’t think or act the same way. You’ll need to devise a new approach to being this person. And don’t take anything he says personally. It’s his depression talking, not real him.
- Learn when to intervene. This is one question you have to ask a professional if the depression is severe. I have heard, for example, that it’s a red flag if a person starts talking about specifics about suicide — when and how. That’s more than merely expressing desires to die. Also, it’s fair to ask this question to the depressed person himself, when he’s in a relatively better mood. And when he protests in times of severe depressive episodes, you can say “we agreed that I intervene when you get to this stage.”
- Don’t force a fix. Depression, like addiction, can only be healed when the person himself realizes the need to heal. You can suggest and encourage, but can’t force it. Except when your loved ones ask you to intervene or the threshold of #3 have been reached. And never “kick” a depressed by saying stuff like “come on, snap out of it!” It’s tempting, I know, but don’t do it. Counter-productive.
- Discourage major decisions. This relates to #1 — when the real person is taken over by a depressed version, it’s best not to let the depressed version make major decisions that affect the real one. Depression can scream for big changes, like resigning a job or getting a divorce. Whenever possible, put things on hold, take a break, but try to hold off on making irreversible big decisions.
- Affirm and validate their feelings. The pain is real to a depressed person and the best thing you can do is to validate it, instead of denying it. Say “I feel your pain” instead of “Don’t feel that way.”
- Match their energy level. A depressed person tends to be lethargic for a reason. Their mind is tired and overloaded and needs a rest. Too much activity around them can tire them. Stay calm, relax and rest with the person. And attend to your active duties when the person’s not around.
- Stay positive. Unfortunately, honesty is not a good policy with a depressed person. You have to present a consistently positive outlook. Tell them that it will get better, and that you still love them, and that you’ll never leave them. If you have issues of your own (undoubtedly you do) don’t unload it upon a depressed person — seek outlet for that elsewhere.
Above all, don’t lose hope! Be sure to seek professional help for yourself, as well as your loved one. Healing is possible.
Be sure to check out the companion article: 7 Secrets That Can Help When You Are Depressed, and subscribe so that you won’t miss all the future articles on personal healing and growth.
Disclaimer: this post is intended for educational or entertainment purposes only and should not be viewed as medical or professional advise.
Pingback: Our Best Version | 7 Secrets That Can Help When You Are Depressed
Depression is tough. I’ve been there. The best thing to do is be support, not forcing a fix is vital to helping them through their difficult time.
Karl Staib – Work Happy Now´s last blog post..Procrastination Dissolve-o-Matic Program Review
Welcome to OBV! Thanks for your comment. Yes, my experience has been that it’s mighty tempting to force someone a fix, yet it’s counter-productive.
Thank you very much. I think this will help my spouse. He gets discouraged at times with me.
Ann O’Nymous´s last blog post..Necromancy
Welcome to OBV — and I do hope it helps. I hope you and your husband can find strength in each other. Keep in touch! I hope to write more on this issue.
Ari, Those were excellent points. The one I find most difficult is #8. It is very difficult for a direct person who has based a relationship on honesty, to consciously choose not to be totally honest. And yet, I know that even in my most intimate relationships, there have been moments of dishonesty by omission or misdirection. And I guess that’s what you’re saying – not so much to be dishonest, as to be positive even when you’re feeling otherwise, for the sake of the depressed person?
I read something in The Sydney Morning Herald (October 12, 08) by Stephanie Dowrick that I thought you might like. She was discussing the futility of some worry, the kind that borders on anxiety and panic, which are often associated with clinical depression.
“Some concern, some worry seems to be essential then. But when does it become too much? When does a parents worry about a child, for example, become intrusive or an additional burden for their child of whatever age? When does worry hamper our efforts to work effectively, maintain a healthy lifestyle or get along with other people? Worry that feeds on itself, that produces panic, helplessness or despair rather than insights or solutions, dominates many peoples lives. Yet in most everyday situations it is possible to learn to shift your focus away from repetitive, fearful thinking to a simple effective version of problem solving, even when there is no specific problem to be “solved”.
The trick is to ask yourself “Whats needed here?” and then to give yourself time and opportunity to find out. A question like this calms you because it engages different and less primitive functions within the brain than naked fear does. Panic must accelerate. “I have no idea” can feel like the only possible answer, yet even then you can persist, actively envisaging how the most capable person you can imagine would deal with this same situation.”
I know that strays a little from your post, but I believe that question can help the partner as well as the sufferer.
Welcome to OBV! Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience.
Yes, you are correct. #8 is for the caregiver to put up the strong face when the depressed person is clinging on to them for strength.
It is quite like caring for a little child. A young mind is not capable of handling all the truth. If I, as a father, was having a financial difficulty — I wouldn’t go to my little children and confide in them my deepest fear about our finance. I would tell them that things will be all right, and seek counseling and comfort elsewhere.
I do agree with the article you quoted. I think such habit of worrying can build up and escalate into a clinical depression, especially with certain personalities. Our minds form many habits, though, and it’s one thing to understand these concepts yet quite another to really rewire our brain to think differently. It can be done, but it’s more doable with a professional help.
Keep in touch — I hope to write more on this issue.
“I think such habit of worrying can build up and escalate into a clinical depression, especially with certain personalities. Our minds form many habits, though, and it’s one thing to understand these concepts yet quite another to really rewire our brain to think differently. It can be done, but it’s more doable with a professional help.”
Absolutely. For me, cognitive behavioural therapy was the key. A clinical psychologist is so much more able to see the forest and the trees than someone whose thoughts and feelings are clouded by depression. I was helped to recognize negative feelings and thoughts, to challenge them and gradually replace them.
Ah, cognitive behavioral therapy — I have not experienced it, but I do understand it in concept. That’s something I’d like to have a go at some time. Thanks again for sharing your personal experience. Keep in touch!
I agree with Susan. Among all of my other issues, I’m currently taking Prozac for my depression (which by the way, was a big mess when I was a “practicing alcoholic”), so I really understand depression from experience. Not that I know everything, just an opinion 🙂
It was straight up honesty that caused me to “wake up” and seek professional help. I was in some pretty rough shape and I do believe that if I thought everything was going great, given the shape that I was in, then there would have been no reason to change. No reason to “wake up”, no reason to want to get better. Unfortunately, that marriage ended in divorce anyway, which led to heavy alcohol use, but I digress. All of that is taken care of now. Back to the point…
I did what I thought I needed to do to save the relationship that I was in. Realizing that I was not the person that I used to be. So what called my hand? Honesty. Honesty from my wife, honesty from my family, and honesty from within myself (#4 is very important, quite possibly the most important on your list, in my opinion.)
But then again I suppose it depends on the state the person was in. I seemed to be able to come to grips with depression before I lost everything, and alcoholism before I lost everything. It is my understanding that those situations (especially alcohol) are rare.
But anyway. Pretty much spot on with your points. I wish that someone else presently suffering with depression would post their thoughts, just to see if I’m way off base. Very interesting subject non-the-less.
PS. When I reach a year’s sobriety (Feb.25) I plan on speaking with my Dr. about maybe “coming off” the Prozac. Her call though.
Scott´s last blog post..My Road To Recovery
Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I appreciate it. I’m sorry to hear that you suffered through depression and alcoholism (they tend to go hand-in-hand, do they not?).
Yes, from the sufferer’s point of view, honesty — or facing the truth about your own condition is the key to recovery. You have to realize that you need healing, that you need help. Without this awareness, it doesn’t matter if you are working with the world’s greatest psychotherapist. You can’t heal.
Indeed, you must have been very self-aware and courageous to face your brokenness before losing everything.
But when you’re the one taking care of a depressed person, the desire to just throw the person into some treatment can be so strong. Because it’s really unbearable to watch a loved one suffer, to be so reduced and hardly recognizable. It’s excruciating. But you can’t, and you shouldn’t, force a fix. At best it will do nothing, more likely it will delay the true healing.
Hang in there, Scott! Sounds like you’re well on your way to recovery. I hope you can stay off drinks and get off medication soon.
Not a problem Ari. You’ve got a great site here and a lot of really interesting conversations. I gotta say, I’m glad I hung on past that first night that I chimed in 😉 I don’t feel so “alone” at your place here now.
I say this, not snappy, or irritated, or anything, but I ask you not to be sorry for me, if you don’t mind. If not for my struggles I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything in or around this world. As they say around here in Tennessee…I’ve growd up a bunch 🙂 .
Scott´s last blog post..A Milestone, or a 2/3 Milestone
Understood — I will not be “sorry” for you. I do get where you’re coming from.
Susan actually posted before I did, make sure that get’s noted somewhere if you don’t mind. Would make both of our posts make more sense I think. Must be the time zone difference. 🙂
Scott´s last blog post..My Road To Recovery
I would think, much depression demands only a change in thinking, which can take a long time to make head way in. As it’s not easy to change thought patterns. Other forms of depression may require medication in addition to a change in thinking…
One of the worse aspects of depression, I think, is that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It negatively impacts those around the depressed person and not just themselves. This is all the more reason, that if one is depressed, they should do whatever they can to overcome it.
I agree you don’t say, “snap out of it.” It’s better to empathize with the person and acknowledge their pain. There are tactful ways that may actually help, but being overly baring may be, as you say, counterproductive.
Bamboo Forest´s last blog post..Make This Halloween a Ghost Dad Halloween
Indeed, depression is contagious. It’s hard not to get depressed when you’re with a depressed person. When we were in the midst, we heard from a number of other people whose marriages were either broken up by or were severely challenged by depression.
I’m hoping that our tale of recovery can help others who are still in the midst. I really hope so.
My father has struggled (mightily) with treatment-resistant depression for most of his adult life. He is very lucky to have an understanding wife who supports him both mentally and financially, though I often worry about whether she follows the first item on your list — she seems selfless, and when I ask Dad about her, his response is often “Mary is Mary.” She must have needs, too, but I haven’t quite figured out what they are. Clearly, she gets satisfaction from taking care of Dad.
As the child of someone who hasn’t been a totally functional parent (hmm. well, as the child of two people who haven’t been totally functional parents), I have struggled with the concept that depression removes some of the culpability for neglect or mistreatment (not that you are saying this, my mind is wandering a bit) — let’s just say that it helps to have some distance. But the parent/child relationship is a very different thing than what you are discussing here.
Jennifer´s last blog post..People stop and stare
Welcome to OBV! Thanks for participating in the discussion here. I appreciate your insights.
Now, I can see where some people are natural caregivers, that when they marry they choose someone they can take care of. Perhaps your mom is like that — so taking care of your dad, to her, means also taking care of her own needs?
If you don’t mind asking, can you tell me more about how parent/child relationship differs from some of the points I made? I do admit that my perspective is from that of spousal relationship, but I did think at least some of the points would apply to parent/child relationships. I’d like to learn where you’re coming from.
Hello — and thank you for the warm welcome!
One clarification — my father’s wife is my stepmother (my own parents were divorced when I was about two. They were very young parents). And I don’t think I mentioned that you’ve laid out some very useful, clear, and compassionate points.
Parents take care of dependent children and I don’t think it’s up to the young or adolescent child of a depressed parent to have to have to think through the points you’ve made. As an adult, I can follow these precepts, but I also have to deal with all the fall-out from growing up with a parent who was absent in more ways than one. Hence, my struggles with forgiveness. I want to follow the precepts, but have to deal simultaneously with the anger.
Hope that makes more sense!
Jennifer´s last blog post..People stop and stare
Thanks for the clarification — and yes, it totally makes sense. I was thinking of a scenario of parent with a depressed child, but not the other way around. You’re right, it’s not the responsibility of the child (shouldn’t be, anyway) to really accommodate their parents’ shortcomings from depression — that’s too much responsibility. And in that case, keeping distance and find parental guidance/love elsewhere may be the best solution.
Thanks again for your insights into this issue — keep in touch!
Ari–I know all too well how many people are affected by depression. In fact, last year, more people missed work due to depression than all other physical illnesses combined. It is such a serious problem in all societies. I thought both this post and your last on depression could benefit so many people–and I really hope that many people can find your posts, which is why I have stumbled both. Thank you so much for the important work you are doing.
Melinda´s last blog post..Hello From the Carribean!
That’s a staggering figure. I mean, I knew that depression is more common than it may seem, but I had no idea it was that rampant. Thanks for the information. I feel very much energized to continue my work here on OBV.
Hi Ari – This is great advice. When I first had PTSD I was really depressed a lot of the time. Life would have been a whole lot easier if I’d had someone supporting me in the way you described.
I had a neighbour who used to come round and make me feel even worse. I’d get all the pull together stuff and she’d tell me how awful it would be for me when I had to go to court (I was seriously assaulted). Really helpful when I knew I had to go anyway. The hilarious thing was – she was a mental health nurse.
Luckily I moved house and a couple of years later, she got the sack and was kicked off the register for cruelty to patients.
Yuck, that sounds unpleasant. Some people are well-intentioned but coming from a really wrong angle, then there are some people who are not very well-intentioned. It’s sad, but sometimes we do have to control our exposure to external energies.
Thank you Ari for what you are doing here. Thank you for creating this site to help people based on your own personal experiences. I’m on the same end as the other Jennifer here, except it’s my mother and I think my experience is much different. I have tried and learned from experience not to try to force a fix. It’s SO very tempting to do, but it just doesn’t work.
Jennifer´s last blog post..It’s Your Choice….
And thanks for all your kind words! 😉 I’m sad to hear about your mother.
It is very frustrating to watch someone suffer and not be able to point them to a fix, especially when you feel like you can see clearly what’s going on. That’s one of the tricky things about this.
I have lived with both a depressed child and a depressed spouse. It was total hell. In teenagers, depression comes out much of the time as anger. My son would have outbursts of anger that were horrible. I have holes in my walls and cracked doors. I had him arrested once for being so out of control. He was attacking my other son and turned on me. This child was bigger than me so it made it difficult at best. I learned to not react to the anger but attempt to deal with the current issue that triggered the episode. He is now moved out and going to college. He is doing much better the older he gets. I like him again.
As for the spouse, his depression is ongoing. He is on meds now and is doing better but not where I would like to see him. Over the years,(yes years of depression) he has said and done some things because of the depression that have left me hurt and scarred. While I do forgive him, the pain inflicted is still present. I don’t think it will ever go away completely.
Having to deal with both of them at the same time was just about more than I could manage. It was only through a great counselor (www.simplemarriage.net), friends who were always there, a God who strengthened me and never left my side, that I was able to get through this time in my life. I would not wish it on anyone. I am now on meds myself for anxiety and depression. All of this was a bit much to work through without the help of the meds. Living through this time in my life was pure hell.
I feel your pain — thanks for sharing your story, but wow — that truly sounds like a nightmare. Is this still an on-going, current thing, or is the worst of this behind? I don’t need to know, but I sure hope you’re in a better place now.
Depression is very contagious. It’s gotta be hard for kids not to get depressed when they see their parents struggle with depression. I’m so glad we dealt with our issues before our kids were born.
It is a testament to your strength and faith that you have experienced all that and still able to say “I do forgive him.” I respect that, very much. It tells me a lot about the kind of person you are.
“Discourage major decisions.” This is a big one, external changes won’t change the depression.
Seamus Anthony´s last blog post..The Five Minute Kettle Meditation
Yes, and I wish I knew that earlier. 🙁 Hopefully others will take the lesson to heart earlier in the process.
Excellent post, Ari. We hear a lot about folks who HAVE depression, but not so much from those who live with it through the life of another. Several things I’ve had to remember: Eating–often too much or not at all. Highly self-critical–they just can’t hear the good you try to share with them. Sleeping can be troubled as well, which leads to exhaustion for both parties. Wonderful advice to share, Ari. Really nice work. G.
Grace´s last blog post..Being authentic in turbulent times
Thanks. Yes, these were points I wish I’d known when the whole thing started. Some I figured out on my own, others I heard from people ahead of me in the process.
Basics are very important when you’re under strain. Eating, sleeping, and moving your body (it doesn’t have to be rigorous exercise). But yet, they can take quite a hit, like you say — and it compromises our coping mechanisms. It’s very difficult.
“Understand that a depressed person is not the person you know.”
This one is a tough, but essential fact that we need to embrace. Otherwise we will start to resent the person, even when the one we resent is not really them. I really appreciate the thoughtful insights, Ari. Eric.
Eric Hamm´s last blog post..When The Right Direction Starts To Look All Wrong
It is very useful to know that — otherwise, you can get very hurt. I certainly did, until I realized what was going on. I have heard of relationships that broke up because of depression, and I can see why.
I’m learning when I should and shouldn’t intervene. It’s hard for me to know when to provide a flashlight and when to sit quietly with my friend and be still with her in the darkness.
Stacey / Create a Balance´s last blog post..How Do You Practice the Art of Life Balance?
It is a tricky balance. I think it’s better to just ask the person, and someone who’s an expert — because sometimes making that judgment call is quite a burden, too much to handle.
Living with depression is burden enough. We have to lighten up our load!
I agree, SNAPPING OUT OF IT never worked for me. You must understand your challenge it and face it/conquer it.
AJ Kumar´s last blog post..Blogger Mindset 2.0: Inspire Yourself for Endless Ideas
Yes, it takes a great deal of patience, but kicking a depressed is not a good idea.