A relative of mine was recently diagnosed with depression. What can I do to support her through this time, and how much will it affect my life?
I think that this a wonderful question you ask, especially because it demonstrates the empathy you have for this family member.
Your question also is insightful in recognizing that when someone you love is diagnosed with depression, it will have some effects on your life.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is depressed, is to accept them just as they are. Unconditional acceptance speaks louder than any words.
At the same time, there are some ways you can actively support someone experiencing depression:
1. Assist the individual in finding support outside of the home. This may include a doctor, therapist, or depression support group. A depressed individual may not be motivated to do this alone, but having a team of support is so important.
2. Encourage the individual to engage in activities that are known to help depression: healthy eating, exercise, writing, reading, talking, taking walks, and getting adequate sleep. Whenever possible, invite them along to join you in these activities.
3. Validate their feelings. For many people, the diagnosis of depression comes as a great relief, as they now have a way to define how they have been feeling for many months of years. This may be difficult for family members to understand, particularly if they were not aware of the struggles their loved one was facing. What is important is not to argue about how the individual is feeling, but to allow them to express themselves and validate what they are going through.
4. Don’t feel that you have to have all the answers. Oftentimes, family members will withdraw, feeling like they don’t know what to say or how to support someone going through depression. In reality, a person going through depression does not expect that you will have all the answers or even understand exactly what they are feeling. All that they really want, is validation for how they are feeling, and someone to care enough to ask them how they are doing.
5. Be available to listen if they feel like talking about how they are doing. It may be hard for an individual with depression to open up about their struggles, but if they do attempt to talk to you, make yourself available to be a great listener!
6. Don’t give pat answers. If you’ve never been through depression, you do not know what it feels like. Instead of saying things like, “I completely understand what you’re going through,” (which probably is not true) focus on letting them know that you are there for them in the midst of their pain.
7. Don’t take the depression personally. When someone who is depressed withdraws from friends and family, it is not because they do not value these relationships. Depression makes everything (including loving relationships) feel like work and the individual just may not have the energy to engage in building deeper relationships at this point.
8. Continue to live your life! You may be tempted to forego activities in order to stay home with your loved one, but be careful how much of your life you give up. If you take on too much of a “caretaker” role, your loved one may lose the incentive to continue working to overcome depression, and you may become filled with resentment and bitterness. Of course, it is great to join a support group or talk to other people with depressed family members. Sometimes, the best encouragement comes from those who have been in your shoes.
9. Find help for yourself, if you need it. Sometimes it is a lot of work living with someone who is depressed. If you find that you start to feel overwhelmed, find someone who understands depression to talk to about your own struggles.
10. Support your loved one and be with them whenever you can, but don’t ditch your social life completely.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.