Most of us will experience depression at some point in our lives. If you’re paying attention, this can give you insights into how to be supportive to other people in need. So, what is the best way to help someone who is dealing with depression?
Don’t Try to Cheer them Up
Helping someone with depression is not as simple as cracking a joke or trying to cheer them up. When someone is going through a depressive episode, they might feel disconnected from their sense of purpose in life. They could feel powerless, hopeless, and even worthless. So a lot of the time, it seems like they don’t want your help, but really, they just don’t believe you can actually help them.
A lot of people are uneducated about depression and mental health. So even well intentioned efforts may backfire. It’s normal to think of depression as a problem that needs to be solved, but really, it’s a condition that needs to be understood.
Trying to help can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t understand why they can’t just lighten up and take it easy. Not understanding is exactly what prevents you from helping. You need to understand what depression is and how it works. As you do your research you’ll find that successfully managing depression requires a healthy lifestyle and in some cases, medication. You will begin to see how diet, exercise, sleep and other habits affect someone’s mind and mood.
Try to Understand Before You Give Any Advice
Once you gain all this knowledge and learn the techniques for improving these habits, you might have the urge to go dump all this information on someone with depression and tell them to go do it and fix it. You go into advice giving mode. But that doesn’t work.
Now that you understand depression in a general sense, you need to connect with that person. Don’t just tell them what they need to do to change their lifestyle, ask them about it. They may not realize how big of an impact food, exercise, and sleep can have on their mood. If you try to give advice before they feel understood, they will shut down.
The Gentle Way to Give Advice
A gentler approach is to just ask questions about their lifestyle. Ask them if they’ve met with a doctor yet or if they are willing to. A medication adjustment can make a huge difference for someone dealing with depression. Ask them about their diet, exercise routine, and sleeping habits. Chances are their answers will be: "My diet is terrible, I don’t exercise at all and I stay up really late.”
Be gentle; shaming them and reminding them that they aren’t doing a good enough job won’t help and could make things worse. Sometimes the depression actually requires medication and therapy in addition to healthy lifestyle changes. You may not be a doctor, but everyone is qualified to help people become more aware of their habits and get them thinking about how to be a little healthier. Simply asking if they’ve considered seeking help can sometimes be enough to remind them that help is available. Your friend may have never spoken with a doctor about their depression and could use some help setting up the first appointment.
An Example is a Powerful Thing
Ultimately, the responsibility to take steps towards treating the depression falls on their shoulders. The most effective way to influence your friends is through your example. If you are living a healthy lifestyle yourself, you can speak with authority when discussing the effects it has on your mood. Not everyone is clinically depressed, but everyone experiences a range of emotion. A healthy lifestyle results in a better state of mind for everyone, so be healthy and set an example.
Read more from Layne Cornell for IBPF here.