How To Support Loved Ones Who Are Experiencing Depression
Acts of Love, No Matter How Big or Small
Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm, or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there shouldn’t be any distinction. We would never tell someone with a broken leg that they should stop wallowing and get it together. We don’t consider taking medication for an ear infection something to be ashamed of. We shouldn’t treat mental health conditions any differently.
– Michelle Obama
Depression is hard to put into words, especially for those who have never experienced it. Much like with the flu or other physical sicknesses, depression can come on suddenly. It seeps into the bones and mind without warning and forces the brightest parts of ourselves to dim. It’s both common and serious, defined by The American Psychiatric Association as a “medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.”
The biggest challenge with mental illness is how deeply complex it is; though, we are learning the power the brain has on our bodies and our physical ailments. For instance, the gut-brain connection is a powerful indicator of how our emotional and physical health work together.
Poet and novelist Sylvia Plath paints the image of depression piercingly, “I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”
As someone who has battled with depression, this quote resonates deeply. My depression often shows up when experiencing great disappointments or sorrows. Therapy and coaching have been crucial for maintaining my mental health. I‘ve also taken holistic approaches: I‘m vigilant about eating nourishing foods, taking herbal supplements, and understanding hormone fluctuations.
My dad and brother also experience challenges with mental health; they were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder years ago. For them, medications and therapy have been necessary for addressing their symptoms. Learning about mental health through their lens has been a fascinating journey and has taught me how best to support their ups and downs.
When wading in the pulling tides of depression, offering support can be everything. Both large and small acts matter. Below are some of the tips I‘ve found to be helpful.
Be Gentle With Your Words
When someone you love is suffering, it can be easy to want to try to “fix” them. It’s in our nature to want to make the pain go away. Yet, as anyone who has experienced depression can attest, being told how to get past it isn’t helpful.
Instead, lead with acknowledging phrases like, “I understand how you are feeling” and “I am here for you.” If you don’t understand, that’s okay. You can say, “I love you, you are not alone, and let me know what you need.”
Depression can make us feel alone and unloved, so hearing these words helps to tell the brain and body that it is, in fact, safe.
With Permission, Offer Physical Affection
If your loved one is open to receiving physical touch, this can significantly ease the effects of depression. When we hug or touch, we release oxytocin, which regulates our positive moods and helps us to feel happy.
Of course, ask permission before touching someone. Not everyone receives love or comfort through physical touch. If that’s the case, consider gifting your loved one an organic weighted blanket.
Send a Care Package
Create a care package of small gifts that help to bring joy, comfort, and self-care into your loved one’s life. This is a beautiful gesture that says, “I am thinking about you.” Especially during this time of social distancing, we’re all experiencing different levels of emotional upheaval and a care package can be a much-needed long-distance hug. You can also start by asking your loved one if there is anything in particular that they need or that would make them feel better.
Create A Check-in Schedule
Offer to have weekly check-in calls so that your friend or family member can talk about how they are feeling. It can be challenging to talk or socialize at all when depressed, so don’t push too hard. Find what works best for them.
Considering the people in my life who have bipolar and a range of other depressive disorders, when I can sense they are going into an altered state or they share that they are, I check in often. Calling does not always work because, again, depression can create a sense of loneliness. But I opt to send texts to ask how they are and gently encourage them to call me whenever they need.
Finding what helps you or those in your life experiencing depression may take time and communication. Remember to lead with gentle understanding and patience, for the clouds of depression part at different times for different people. All we can be is a listening ear and a gleam of light amidst the darkness.
If you experience depression or have a loved one who does, how do you best receive or provide support? Please feel free to share in the comments below!
Courtney Jay Higgins is the Associate Editor at The Good Trade. She is also a Yoga Instructor, vegetarian, wellness and fashion enthusiast. Originally from Colorado, her soul found California when she came to get her degree in Visual Communications at the Fashion Institute Of Design & Merchandising. She has a background in telling a story through writing, creative direction and content creation. Check out her blog and Instagram for her unique perspective on the mergence of fashion and spirituality.