Throughout my life, I've been touched by people struggling with mental illness. I'm extremely sensitized to their journey and I've chosen to dedicate much of my private practice as a psychotherapist to helping people cope.
However, one of my most precious and dedicated encounters has been as a friend, not as a therapist, because my best friend suffers from depression and anxiety.
We have been friends for a lifetime. So many wonderful times spent together over the years. Also, some very challenging obstacles met with sadness and depression.
Although difficult at times, I've been committed to helping her through her darkest moments and lowest points. Trust me -- supporting her is not easy. The journey is exhausting, and at times it makes me feel down and overwhelmed. Sometimes, I feel like I've lost my partner in crime and crave the fun and easygoing times. Even though I know that the cycle of darkness is temporary, at times I'm desperate to see the light at the end of tunnel. But because I love and believe in her whole heartedly, I am dedicated to her recovery despite the burden.
As many caregivers can attest to, depression is taxing and puts a strain on a relationship, be it a friendship or otherwise. You often feel like you're walking on eggshells and that saying or doing the wrong thing could result in disaster. The black cloud of depression makes you feel like escaping and being with anyone else but her.
Although, we wish they would just "snap out of it" and stop feeling sorry for themselves, it's important to remember that depression is an illness, not sadness or self-pity.
And unfortunately, the onset of depression is sometimes unpredictable and the darkness, withdrawal and inability to cope is a symptom not a reaction. People don't enjoy being depressed. It's certainly not a choice. If they could just "snap out of it and get over it," then trust me, they would.
Unless you've suffered from depression it's almost impossible to truly understand the depth of despair. Instead, empathize, validate and support.
And yes, we all have bad days once in a while but depression is not just sadness, frustration or a crappy day. It's a medical condition that affects the person's overall well-being and level of functioning. Depression hurts -- physically, emotionally, and cognitively. So, unless you've suffered from depression it's almost impossible to truly understand the depth of despair. Instead, empathize, validate and support.
Despite having so much to be happy for, depression is blind to many of life's pleasures. Although they may appreciate their family, job or lifestyle -- it doesn't negate that depression is a real medical problem that feels hopeless and lonely, despite having things to feel happy about.
So, if someone you love, your best friend, daughter or brother are suffering from depression -- be patient.
Let them know that although you may not truly understand the way they are feeling; you certainly empathize with them.
Sometimes finding the right support for your loved one can be overwhelming but help is certainly available. Mobilizing a team of professionals is crucial. Seek medical support and get a referral to a therapist who specializes in depression.
Offer them your unconditional support because feeling supported, loved and understood is half the battle.
Although it can be hard to be around someone who is in a depression, don't let your loved ones become isolated. Escaping momentarily to something you both enjoy -- like watching a funny TV show, a quick manicure or a walk in the neighborhood can be a great way to help them cope, diffuse the sadness and can create some normalcy within your relationship. And remember laughter also goes a long way!
So helping someone who is depressed isn't always easy but being willing to listen to them and try to validate what they are feeling is certainly a wonderful way to help. Just be there for them and offer them your unconditional support because feeling supported, loved and understood is half the battle.
Let's break the stigma.
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