How To Live With Someone Suffering From Depression
Suffering from mental depression is one thing. Living with a person suffering from mental depression is another.
The person suffering from mental depression is often withdrawn, has minimal interests, and no self esteem. It’s only natural that the person living with such a person would want to “fix them” by generating interests and building up how they feel about themselves. In fact it’s probably a bigger challenge for the individual living with the depressed person than it is for the depressed person. Yet, generally there are few stress techniques for the person living with the depressed person.
Case in point:there once was a continuing education stress management program for a group of high school educators. One of the exercises was to deal with the stress of others being in emotional states. Half of the participants were instructed to be observers and the other half were instructed to “act” out an emotion. We started with happiness. Half the group acted happy as they walked about the room interacting with others who were likewise “acting out” happiness. The other half of the group were simply instructed to observe without any interaction or judgment. No one had any problem with this assignment. Then I had those who were observers switch roles and act out “confusion” while the other half of the group were observers. Again, no one had any problem with this assignment. However, subsequently when I had them act out “depression” some observers found it too emotionally disturbing to such a degree that I had to suspend the exercise.
It was far more a challenge for the observers than it was for the actors. Giving someone space to be depressed is a real challenge. The observers felt they needed to do something about those who were acting depressed. And this is generally true in relationship. It’s often as painful to live with a depressed person as it is to be depressed.
And if you search the internet you’ll find volumes of articles on how to overcome depression, yet you’ll find few articles or resources or stress techniques on how to live with a depressed person which is clearly as stressful if not even more stressful as being depressed.
The typical approaches–trying to fix them, giving them pep talks, and so on rarely work. What does work is to give them loving space to feel the emotion. This is the best of all stress techniques.
Rather than hitting the “nail on the head” and saying something like, “You shouldn’t be so down or depressed, you have so much going for you,” it’s more appropriate to say, “I sense that you are feeling a bit down–maybe somewhat depressed–I’m here to support you any way that I can and if you’d like to talk about it, I’m all ears.” You can put this idea into your own vernacular. This, of all stress techniques, is the best approach.
Saying that you “sense that you are feeling down,” avoids putting them on the defensive. Years ago, that would have been called “active listening.” No one likes to admit that they feel depressed, angry, confused, have no self worth, and so on. Thus it’s far more appropriate to tell them what you sense–after all you could be wrong and they will enlighten you to the issues if you are wrong.
Until they decide to confide in you and talk about the issue, this is the limit of your approach. However, when they do decide to talk about it, you’ll want some stress techniques to empower them to handle their depression.
Most likely they are suffering from many disappointing changes in their life, or there’s a situation or relationship in which they feel a conflict, or there’s an identity crisis from changes in life such as retirement, loss of relationship, financial loss, and so on.
By knowing how to listen, you can know how to direct them to overcome their depression. By understanding the factors that lead to depression you can play a big part in their recovery. For there are supportive things to say and non supportive things to say.
Many depressed individuals don’t feel good enough about themselves to do more than take medication. It helps to know more. For instance, most often there is a conflict between love and hate which until it’s resolved, depression lingers on. The more effective you are at active listening rather than offering your opinions and understanding some of the dynamics that contribute to depression, the more effective you’ll be.