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I was depressed.
It was 30 years ago, but I remember that period of my life with such clarity—like it was yesterday.
I remember my vision being blurry and my thinking was cloudy. I couldn’t follow my train of thought. Conversations with others were lost midway.
There was doom and gloom everywhere and a dark cloud that followed me around. I questioned why I should bother doing anything or spending time with anyone.
Everything felt pointless.
When I think back I wonder how I made it through that difficult time. I have had sad times since, hard moments, intense grief, and massive defeats, but nothing compares to that time. The depths of despair and places I went to in my mind were so dark and heavy.
Sometimes, in reflection, it feels like a miracle had to have happened to pull me out of it—like a guardian angel came down from heaven to save me. Yes, I prayed often for support from above, but my recovery wasn’t something that magically happened overnight.
The mind is certainly miraculous in that it can become our greatest ally, but it took time and energy to train my mind to be that way, and it took a lot of love from those around me to see me through.
Nevertheless, living through those dark days, I am convinced it was something that was meant to happen. I needed to learn how to truly love and support myself so that I could be there in times of need for others.
Coincidentally, during my first year working in the mental health field, my entire caseload had a diagnosis of clinical depression. Parents, children, partners, spouses, and close friends would often call and feel at a loss as to what to do or how to help.
Witnessing our loved ones struggle with depression is painful and heart-wrenching and has a ripple effect on our lives.
Yet, there are simple things we can do to be supportive and make life easier for ourselves and someone who is depressed.
Here are five ways we can show up during this tough time and offer our love and comfort.
1. Snap out of it.
Most of us are hardwired to wish that we and others can instantly wake up from unpleasant times and get back to normal—as if this period is just a bad dream. However, mental health challenges take time and understanding. They are different from having a virus or a sprained ankle. Depression and its intensity differ from person to person and there is no set timeline for its duration.
Typically, when we are experiencing depression we have developed thought patterns, habits, and coping mechanisms that are no longer serving us. It takes time to unwind these habitual behaviors and learn a whole new way to function and approach our lives.
While it is not helpful to voice our “snap out of it” sentiment to someone who is depressed and it is unhealthy to have that expectation altogether, it is a great reminder for us (every time we think or wish this) to take a deep breath and have patience and remember to open up our hearts to them instead.
Let this knee-jerk reaction be a pattern interruption for us.
It has often been described to me that when someone is depressed they feel as if they are drowning. They are waving their arms in the air, gasping to breathe, and fighting to stay afloat. I believe it is useful to envision this scenario whenever we think of a loved one who is experiencing depression.
This image helps us to lower our expectations, take their actions less personally, and narrow our attention solely to their mental health struggles. It also empowers us to show up empathically—with love and compassion for them.
3. Be consistent and make it a routine.
Checking in, popping by, or pinging someone who is depressed whenever you are free is nice, but it is more meaningful to allocate time solely for them when the time is undivided.
It is most supportive to find a time in the day when we can consistently sync up with each other’s schedules, like during our lunch breaks or after dinner. If you live in the same city, organizing a weekly, bi-weekly, or daily coffee or walk (run, jog, gym) together at the same time is valuable. (Think: Tuesdays with Morrie.)
The more consistent we can be the better, and the more we make being together in person or via the phone a priority and a constant occurrence, the more it will convey how important they are to us.
When someone is depressed they aren’t only feeling sadness; they typically may be feeling anger as well. Sometimes they may blame the ones they love the most for the things that have gone wrong in their lives. It is hard to resist defending ourselves or responding on our behalf when this happens—but we mustn’t engage in debate or defense.
It is best to ask for space or to take a pause to think about our feelings.
We do not have to agree or take responsibility, but becoming defensive or feeling slighted will invalidate their experience. Letting them know we are listening, even when we don’t like what we hear, can be especially encouraging to someone who feels unheard and unimportant.
It is essential when we are committed to being there for someone who is depressed to have avenues for joy in our lives. We must remember to fill our days with activities, conversations, and personal interests that bring us happiness, like reading books, watching movies, or being in nature.
We can keep our spirits high and remain hopeful, so as not to become depleted or defeated, and be a reassuring presence for our loved ones. Speaking with a therapist, psychiatrist, or life coach may also be beneficial.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” ~ Robin Williams