Before this illness struck our family in such a profound way, the thought of having a conversation with someone who has suffered or is currently suffering with clinical depression was a daunting one. I never quite knew whether or not I should bring it up or even ask how they were feeling.
It still amazes me how I could easily discuss almost any illness including some quite serious ones with friends, family and even strangers in an engaged and compassionate way but would struggle to ask someone about their mental illness.
Hope in Depression, a charity focused partly on helping to normalise this terrible disease was founded by my wife Lisa and largely evolved due to her own story of recovery and all the things she wished she had known back then and had to learn through trial and error and many times through sheer tenacity. But in many ways, it is a dual story. Lisa’s is one of suffering often alone even though she was mostly in her own home, surrounded by friends and family. Mine however is based on my own seemingly inept efforts to support her effectively during this awful time.
Before I go any further let me clarify something, none of this is rocket science. I just wasn’t compassionate enough because I didn’t understand the torment Lisa was going through and could not really appreciate it as I had my own hang ups about illness from my childhood and was a firm believer in the philosophy “Don’t make a fuss and it will all go away”. By the way this doesn’t work.
If you are reading this, you may have similar feelings to my own or an entirely different set of reasons as to why you struggle with supporting your friend or loved one who is suffering. That’s okay that’s not principally why we are here, but you may at some point find it helpful to talk to someone or come on the course as it is for supporters as well as sufferers of depression and or anxiety.
What I would like to say with the time available, regardless of how you see it is that first and foremost trust that their feelings are genuine and do not dismiss them with the old cliches like “buck up, pull yourself together” or any other useless sayings you may have heard. They need someone close to them that really believes them when they say they are suffering and often-deeply tormented.
Second no matter how often they ask for reassurance or just look like they need it, reassure them constantly. Depression is a time limited illness, and it does not last forever so telling them they are going to feel better is not only true, but it helps a lot.
Third keep talking and don’t be afraid to get them to discuss in detail how they are feeling. Walk through their thoughts and fears with them and what may be triggering them if anything.
Lisa and our whole family now talk about our low mood and possible triggers as a way to help each other work through our feelings and we have found that this is effective even if you are not suffering with clinical depression as we all get low sometimes.
Finally, this level of support over sustained periods of time is exhausting and can take a toll, particularly if you also need to work, manage the kids, house etc and can create low mood or even depression in the supporter. Selfcare is important as you will need a break and should ask for help as I didn’t and wish I had. Something as simple as a friend or relative coming around to sit with them or go for a walk giving you some much needed free time is very important and you should not feel guilty about it as in the long run it makes you a better support if you keep your batteries charged.
I hope this has helped and if you are interested to know more there are loads of other resources and details of upcoming courses to be found on our website
Written by Brent Owens