As someone who has suffered from depression for the past 17 years, I’m pretty comfortable about sharing my experience. When people who have also dealt with depression come to me, I immediately feel the need to lend an empathetic ear. It’s easier to speak with others who have suffered like you have. It feels like a sort of kinship: two people who have waged the same war. There is a comfort in knowing you’re not alone. But what about the people around us who love us? How are they coping with our depression? This is something I know I have failed to acknowledge in the past. When I am in a fragile mental state or completely absorbed with my own pain, it’s difficult to think about anyone else. And that’s not fair. These people who stand by us and love us unconditionally deserve to be acknowledged. For anyone who loves someone who suffers from depression, here is my message to you.
1. It’s Not You. It’s Me
Please don’t take it personally. Oftentimes, someone going through depression can be irritable or withdrawn. They may want to isolate themselves, and you see less of them. They may not confide in you as much as they used to. I can understand how it may feel intentional, and it may even make you question how this person feels about you. It’s important to remember this isn’t about you.
2. It’s Not Your Responsibility to Fix Me
In a recent conversation with my wife, she explained how watching me battle depression and not being able to do anything makes her feel helpless. Hearing this broke my heart. It also made me realize there are probably many other people who feel this way. Family and friends of depressed people are often like outsiders looking in, relentlessly trying to find a way to “heal” their loved ones. When their efforts don’t seem to work, they feel like they’ve failed. A depressed person isn’t broken, and it’s not your job to fix them. Their depression is beyond your control, and all you can do is support them the best you can. I also think it is important to know that it’s OK to have your own emotions too. Loving someone with depression can be frustrating and draining, and it can place extreme stress on a relationship. You don’t have to be a rock all the time.
3. You Don’t Have to Understand, but You Do Have to Listen
Sometimes I feel like I can try until I’m blue in the face to explain what depression feels like, but to those who have never experienced it, sometimes it seems impossible to get the point across. When you love someone with depression, you don’t need to feel guilty if you really just can’t understand what your loved one is going through. You don’t need to try to find a way to empathize to be supportive. Just listen.
4. Please Don’t Say That
As I mentioned, you do not need to understand what a depressed person is going through to listen to them. What you need to do, however, is really recognize that depression is not something someone can just “snap out of.” Just because depression doesn’t always manifest into physical symptoms that you can see doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A depressed person is not just someone who is sad, and there isn’t a quick fix for it. Trying to convince your loved one that they have nothing to be depressed about is not constructive.
5. Show Me the Love
Loving someone with depression can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells sometimes. You may feel afraid to show love or support because you fear nothing you say will be the right thing. While a depressed person may want to isolate themself, I think it’s critical to continue to let that person know how much you love them. For me, in my darkest times, hearing my friends and family tell me they love me gives me something to hope for. It makes me feel worthy, and it makes me feel supported. A little bit of love can go a long way.
Taking a step back to realize the role the people in my life play when it comes to my depression has given me a renewed sense of gratitude. They remind me that even in what feels like a hopeless state of mind, I am not alone. I also realize it is just as important for those people who love and support their loved ones who suffer from depression to feel recognized. For those who are supporting their loved ones with depression, remember: you are not alone, either. We are all in this together.