Depression doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It causes a ripple effect that touches everyone surrounding the person. Family members and friends often feel helpless, not knowing how to reach out or what to do to help their suffering loved one.
It would be nice if the depressed person could vocalize their needs, so that friends and families knew exactly what to say and do. However, according to J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., MD, a former professor of psychiatry and the director of the affective disorders clinic at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, their relationship skills are significantly diminished. Communication becomes problematic because the person is embarrassed to say how they feel, anticipating judgment.
How does a family member proceed, then, with little or no direction? Every individual is different in how they handle the beast of depression, but here are a few universal things you can try that will empower both you and your loved one toward recovery and hope.
1. Educate Yourself About Depression and Other Mood Disorders
You may not be able to cure your loved one. But you can better understand his or her condition by educating yourself about depression or the kind of mood disorder he or she has. Reading up on your loved one’s illness will help you feel more in control of the situation and give you more patience to tolerate the confusing or frustrating symptoms.
Here are some places to start:
- Families for Depression Awareness helps families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder to get people well and prevent suicides. They offer education, training, and support to unite families and help them heal while coping with mood disorders.
- Depression Bipolar Support Alliance Family Center is a place of “compassion, hope, and understanding” that provides a wide variety of family-focused resources and information, such as How to Help Someone in Crisis, Help With Symptoms and Treatment, and Help With Relationships.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for family members, caregivers, and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness. You can gain insight from the challenges and successes of others facing similar circumstances.
2. Ask Questions and Dig for the Root Cause
The best way to understand a subject is to research it like a journalist and ask a lot of questions. With depression and anxiety, asking questions is critical because the terrain is so vast and each person’s experience is so different. Chances are that your friend is not going to voluntarily cough up the information that you need, because he or she is too ashamed of the symptoms and afraid he or she will be judged. To better know what’s going on, you must dig for the information. Here are a few questions to consider:
- When did you first start to feel bad?
- Can you think of anything that may have triggered it?
- Do you have suicidal thoughts?
- Is there anything that makes you feel better?
- What makes you feel worse?
- Are you under stress?
You know your sister, friend, brother, or father better than most mental health professionals, so help them solve the riddle of their symptoms. Together consider what could be at the root of their depression: physiologically, emotionally, or spiritually. Where is the disconnect?