Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lifting the Burden of the Depressed

Again, read the disclaimer from my last post. I'm not trying to write definitively, just illustrate a perspective.

1) Find out all you can about depression. Learn about the various types and how to recognize them. Realize that most depressed people hide it very skillfully, only letting hints peek out occasionally. (Often through self-depreciating humor.) Try to be aware and sensitive to those hints. If you are living the commandments, the Spirit will help you here.

2) Stay calm and rational if you begin to suspect someone is depressed. Otherwise, it will only show them you can't be trusted. This includes suppressing wild suggestions of obtaining therapy or medicine. Suggesting therapy is a great idea once the person is ready for it. Chances are if a person is depressed, they've already thought about therapy and rejected it for some reason. Listen first, make suggestions later. Sometimes a person just needs a listening ear before they will be ready to take action.

3) Tell them good things about themselves every chance you get. This doesn't mean fawning all over them, that's pretty transparent. But any time there is a real, positive attribute, emphasize it. Often depression fills your thoughts with worthlessness and self-criticism. It helps to have another external voice telling you that you're not so bad. Minimize the negative. Depression will fixate on any hint of criticism and expand it way out of proportion. Reinforce any negative that must be communicated with a dozen positives.

4) Make yourself slightly annoying. Push yourself into their lives (just a little). Depressives often shut out friendships, wanting to distance other people from their problems. If you can demonstrate friendship through the bad, you will seem like a real friend. Be ready for possibly harsh rejection at first. Realize that they are probably trying to protect you. If they harshly reject you, meet it with equanimity, an attitude of "No problem. Sorry I overstepped my bounds. I love you. You're a good friend. I am here for you as soon as you're ready."

5) Once they are ready, once they have verbalized their realization of a problem that needs fixing, suggest counseling. Offer to go with them as silent support. Counseling can be scary or embarrassing. It's a big step for someone to make.

6) Realize that you can't fix their problems, you can only be a support for them. Chances are, the boundaries of friendship will be pushed a little. It is a way for a depressive to test genuine friendship. If someone is violating the boundaries of friendship by coming over too often, taking over your life or refusing to leave when they ought, remember it is because they are afraid and you might be the only person they feel they can trust. Treat them gently. Rather than rejecting outright with a "go home", try to give them a "go home, but come back at [an appropriate time] tomorrow. I can't wait to see you again." Leave the door figuratively open after they leave.

7) Replace "I understand" with "I'm so sorry about that." No one - not even another depressive - really understands what it is like for another person suffering from depression. Even the depressive doesn't understand themselves fully. Show compassion, not understanding. It can be frustrating to feel that everyone around you understands you when you are lost in confusion.

8) Be ready to give support during some (often crazy) changes. Recovering from depression often means completely revamping your life. Thought patterns change, lifestyles change, even friendships change. Be there as a constant through the rough seas, and things will settle down again. Be encouraging through the changes and make sure you don't take them personally. Sometimes a person has to try out different things before finding what works.

9) Be honest. If a depressed person is becoming too much burden for you to carry and they don't seem to be doing anything about it, tell them. Tell them they have a problem you would like to help solve. Tell them you enjoy their friendship, but for this one thing that doesn't do them justice. Reinforce the limits on friendship with love. It might hurt them in the short term, but if you show that "increase of love", they will realize you are a true friend through good and evil.

10) Get counsel for yourself. Go to your bishop or look for help online. Try to find a "friends of depression" type support group in your area. Being friends with someone so needy or so solitary may be hard, but it is worth it. Get help through the rough spots. You may need it.

At any rate, I hope these ideas help someone. I welcome any other ideas out there.


  1. I am impressed that you have obviously studied this out and thought it through in great detail. The suggestions from both your two recent posts are excellent and worthwhile to consider implementing.

    As one who suffers from both biological and situational depression, I am so very grateful for the advantage of the Internet and good bloggers like yourself who share insights and wonderful suggestions like these for dealing with depression.

    My mother, from whom I inherited the biological depression, did not have this advantage. I am confident that she would have been helped so much if she had been able to share with other faithful sisters like you. We are so blessed to live in this day and age of advancing technology.

    From the realm of personal experience in dealing with this all my life, may I offer one additional suggestion that has helped me more than anything else? I have found that physical exercise and just physical activity in general is a great antidote to my biological sufferings.

    My chemical imbalance is also helped by medication but I hate the side effects so I tend to avoid them. I can sometimes receive the same benefit from a change in diet - an increase of healthy green, orange, yellow and other "earthy" natural foods. Alas, the demands of a busy schedule will find me eating junk food and I'm back in the same funk once again.

    Sine this runs in my family I too have studied it out. I wrote about it in this post:

    Psychiatric disorders in Mormon theology

    I especially recommend the support activities of NAMI.

    A final word on situational depression, if I may. In my case, after having taken my pain to the Lord many times in prayer, I have discovered that it is because of the very situation I am in that I am able to grow and develop faith in a manner that could be accomplished in perhaps no other way.

    It has been my experience that situational depression is long-term, and yet it is not forever. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel but it is still years away. It is by continuing to walk towards that light that I am beginning to see the hand of the Lord more clearly in my life. This depression has become a major blessing.

    Even though I hate the cold and empty feeling inside, I find that by pushing through and doing what I know must be done, that I am able to find joy in small things that I never thought would have mattered before. The simple song of a bird or the sight of a butterfly can cause me the most sublime feelings of joy that I never would have believed possible.

    To any who may be suffering from depression, and I suspect that it is a greater number than we believe, I simply offer my love and support: hang in there, you are not alone. Even those who seem the most well adjusted individuals in the world may be walking the same path as you are. Wave and say hello. Offer a cheery smile and a warm hug. It is appreciated more than you will ever know.

  2. Great post.

    I'd add the simple suggestion to pray for them, and put their name on the temple roll. And your own, too, if you are needing some help helping.

    I second the thought about exercise (those who are depressed often don't have the gumption to exercise, but some studies suggest that exercise can be similar in benefit to actual medication).

    And live your life to have the Spirit so He can guide you, because sometimes you will say or do things with His help that you wouldn't otherwise.

  3. Tim - THANK YOU! Those are wonderful ideas. Exercise definitely gets endorphins going. I've found even if I'm too tired for a full exercise routine, even a walk around the block or a ten-minute treadmill can work wonders for the rest of the day. It has also given me something to focus on that I can do: when I'm starting to feel the funk coming on, I up my exercise just a little in speed, duration or intensity. Then I feel I've accomplished something worthwhile which can really help.

    M&M - thanks for your comments, too. They're great, simple ways to start. I want to add that while prayer and submitting names on the temple roll have real power, most of that power comes when the submitter opens their minds to influence by the Spirit. So don't end with prayer/temple roll! Prayer doesn't exist in a vacuum.

  4. Good suggestions. I'd like to add another one. Listen honestly, rather than just agreeing with everything the person says. We frequently agree and support anything anyone says: "I can't believe they did that! I'd be mad too! You have every right to be angry!" We leap to justify someone's emotional reaction in hopes of supporting them.

    But I clearly remember a couple times when I was ranting about some terrible offense and my mom, who was there too, said, "it didn't happen that way." My sister was also willing to say, "that's not what I remember - it was this way." Rather than telling me I was completely justified in being upset, they told me I wasn't remembering certain events correctly.

    That was one of my first clues that the problem was me, not the whole rest of the world. Finding that out helped me on the path to healing. You don't get better when you think it's the whole world that has to change instead of yourself.

    So rather than just listening and nodding at everything, if you have the right sort of relationship with the person, perhaps suggest that there might be some extenuating circumstances for someone else's conduct, or they might have exaggerated something. It's a touchy thing to do, but I am forever grateful for the family members who were willing to honestly and lovingly tell me, "your perception is skewed."

  5. I feel like I'm a little late to this discussion, but I'm glad you all are talking about it. For me it is important to create a support network. That network includes my husband, good friends, a therapist, medicine, exercise, and, of course, God and Jesus Christ. Another important thing, I think, is to start being honest with those around you. Depressed people will never be understood they need unless they start talking about it. That's why I started my blog, "Depressed (but not unhappy)Mormon Mommy". We all need a place where we can be real about this illness and how it effects us. I hope my blog can do that. Thanks Silver Rain for taking this issue on!

  6. I'd add one more thing to suggesting counseling: offer to do some research about therapists and/or make an appointment. For me, if I let things get too bad, actually picking up the phone and making a call to a doctor's office and telling a receptionist I need an appointment for depression is a series of nearly insurmountable hurdles. Not everyone is like this, of course, but I've talked to enough fellow-sufferers to know that sometimes the phone might as well weigh 5 tons because it's so impossible to pick it up!


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