If you love someone who feels the emptiness and shame of depression, you have probably seen them feeling uncomfortable, distressed, lethargic, and despondent. Maybe you’ve tried to cheer them up, only to be met with bitterness or even emptiness. If that’s true for you, you can probably relate to this spectrum of feelings: Exhaustion, frustration, helplessness, sadness, and fear. What, if anything, is helpful? Since so much has been written about depression, I’ll link to a few articles I like and let you read through to learn more about how depression impacts folks. Something important to note, however, is that depression is deeply personal, and linked to deep-rooted shame. These aren’t things you can fix by rationalizing with someone, or by suggesting something like “mind over matter.” If these are tactics you’ve used in the past, don’t worry. You probably noticed they didn’t help, and that’s why you’re looking for something else to help you. (Also, did you know spending time with furry animals is known to increase oxytocin, which can chemically impact mood?)
- Ask what would help. They may not know what would be helpful, but they might surprise you. If they respond with something that feels impossible (“It would help if you could make this feeling go away!”), let them express it, and agree. “I wish I could make it go away.” Sometimes, making tea, offering a hot water bottle, or the aforementioned furry animal can be helpful to regulate the oceanic depths of the sadness, and help the person feel a bit more buoyant.
- Stay with them. If possible, stay with the person as long as it feels ok to you. If you have a relationship that involves touch, rubbing their back, shoulders, or the top of their head lovingly can help remind the person you are there, even if you can’t make the feeling disappear. Try not to leave until you know what safety measures may need to be taken, and if you can’t stay, make sure the person has access to their usual resources (sponsor, therapist, friend, pastor, etc).
- Stay with your discomfort. Your person is really going through it, which means you will likely be going through it, too. It is said that one of the ways therapy works is that the therapist processes, or “metabolizes,” the feelings of the patient, which can help the patient unconsciously process the feelings, too. You can offer your therapeutic presence by “staying with”, as opposed to trying to distract from, the discomfort you feel, which can help the person you’re close to release and work through some of their own feelings.
- “Feelings are states, not traits.” This quotation from Dr. Dan Siegel really sums up the depression process: These are moods that seem to stick like glue to the fabric of your loved one’s life—so much so that it is easy to forget that feelings are states of being that come and go, that are sometimes pressure-ful and sometimes light, that, if you stay with the discomfort (See #3), will pass, and something new will take its place.
- Don’t take it personally. Chances are good that, depending on your relationship, your loved one has felt this way long before you came into their life. This is probably not about you, even though it may be very deeply impacting you-- and even though you may have said or done something that triggered a feeling. You may be having a lot of feelings about the pain you see your loved one experiencing, but that pain probably has very little to do with you. What you can impact and be accountable for is how you talk to and understand your loved one when they’re going through this difficulty.
- Allow yourself to feel “all the feelings." It is so necessary for you to get as much self-care as possible. (See my list of inexpensive and accessible methods of self-care here.) This includes feeling whatever it is that you are feeling. Remember, some of it may be the feelings of your loved one that you are processing through your own system right now. If you do not allow yourself space to have your own experience, the feelings will build up in you, and may cause resentment, anger, and even the loss of the relationship.
- Process your feelings in your own therapy. Being in your own therapeutic treatment can be so useful to you right now. There are likely deep-seated reasons you are close to someone who is depressed; and even if there's not a family history of caretaking in your life, being with someone who is going through so much can bring up feelings that you will want to process and understand. If there is an issue that you feel is directly related to a boundary you have in your relationship, find a time when your feeling and your loved one’s depressive episode are not acute to begin to talk about it. Individual or couples’ therapy is an excellent place to bring up feelings that don’t feel like they can be contained safely in the relationship. Which brings me to:
- Discover your boundaries, and keep them firm but not rigid. Boundaries are an essential element to any healthy relationship, with others and with yourself. Discover what and how much you will tolerate, and give yourself full freedom to hold that line. While different circumstances call for different measures, it's important to know what your limits are, and do your best to notice when you are feeling depleted. This is a good time to recharge with self care, however it suits you best.
For more information about depression, or to begin therapy in Berkeley, CA with a licensed professional with expertise in many types of depression, give me a call at 510-594-4035 for a free phone consultation. I can point you toward resources that can be helpful to you in this process. It may take at least 24 hours for me to respond to your call, so if you or your loved one are suicidal or in crisis, take it seriously and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you or your loved one are contemplating suicide, go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.
I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.
To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) 8 Things To Do When Your Loved One Is Depressed. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/06/17/8-things-to-do-when-your-loved-one-is-depressed/