Something that I suck at is asking for help. When I’m well I find it so hard to do, but when I’m depressed it’s damn near impossible. I can’t tell you how I’m feeling, what I want to eat, when I want to go to bed. It is simply far too hard to tell you what it is I need when I feel like the world is crashing in on me. This is something that has driven my husband to despair over the past thirty years. For so long he had no idea how to help me, how to make me feel better and especially how to maximise my chances of recovery. It has taken a lot of trial and error (plenty of error) for us to get to a point where my depression triggers a certain set of behaviours in both my husband and I so that I spend less time in that deep dark place and Scott has a great deal less anguish watching me suffer. So here are a few tips for caring for someone with depression.
1. Don’t ask them what they want to eat or drink.
When I’m depressed, if I can brush my hair I know I’m winning. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s only brushing my hair. But it’s all relative. When you’re depressed the simplest tasks can seem near impossible. So it is the most difficult task to think about what to eat and drink. Beside the fact that you’re probably not hungry, your brain just cannot function well enough to think of something you might like to eat (you can’t enjoy anything anyway). So if you’re caring for a depressed human, take the lead. Don’t ask them what they want to eat. Just make something nice that you think they might like. Chances are they will enjoy it as much as they can enjoy anything right now and they will appreciate not having to make a decision about it. Bring them a glass of water every so often, without asking. My husband would always ask me what I felt like eating. He wanted to make me happy by feeding me something that I felt like. Truth was I never felt like anything and him asking put so much pressure on me to make a decision. What I needed was for him to just provide sustenance until I could function just a little bit better. So my advice is to just do. It takes so much pressure off your depressed human to just take the lead and just provide sustenance.
2. Actively encourage them to get off the couch.
This is a hard one. When I’m depressed I do not want to move. Getting out of bed is a monumental task. Walking from the bed to the couch almost impossible. The very last thing I want to do is go for a walk or pick up my crocheting. But it is true that the very best thing you can do when you are depressed is to exercise and to do activities that usually are fun. It is important to push yourself to do something, anything that takes you out of the sitting in the couch zone. So if you are caring for a depressed person, encourage them to move. You may have to be incredibly persuasive. Don’t necessarily ask what they want to do, just make a plan and encourage them strongly to stick to it. It can be anything, like going for a five minute walk, or watering the garden or making the bed. Something little but achievable. It will make all the difference in their recovery. I have to admit that when I was severely depressed, Scott would come into the lounge room, hand me shoes and say
“Pop these on, we’re going for a walk.”
I would cry and complain and say that I’m not going. Putting on my shoes was sometimes the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But Scott insisted and we went for a walk. Just a short one. I cried the entire way around the block. And I hated Scott for making me do it. But I did it and it lifted my mood. It added to my recovery. Scott taking the lead and strongly encouraging me to move helped me get better.
3. Take everything off the table.
Removing pressure can be the kindest thing you can do for a depressed person. Take everything off the table except their self care. Don’t bother them with bills that are due, or house repairs that need doing or social events that they just can’t make it to. Give them a blank slate and allow them to concentrate on getting better. This does not mean that they don’t need to work hard. The opposite in fact. Your depressed person needs to work exceptionally hard at getting better. They need to take their medication, go to therapy, meditate, exercise, eat right and do all of the self care activities that they possibly can. Recovering from depression is a full time job. Caring for that person means giving them the space to concentrate on their self care and their recovery.
4. Reassure, reassure, reassure.
A depressed person cannot have enough love. They may not be capable of reciprocating it while they are feeling so incredibly awful, but they will feel it. Love them. Hug them. Sit with them without talking. Be there. Tell them they’re not alone in their deep dark pit. Tell them you’re fighting their fight right alongside them. You’re in it together. You may get no response from them. But carry on anyway. It will make a difference. For when you are depressed you feel like you are enveloped in darkness. Completely surrounded. Having someone tell you that you are loved may be the only sliver of light that you can see. And as you fall deeper and deeper into the darkness you hold onto that sliver of light. And that little ray of light may mean all the difference between stepping out of the darkness and losing the fight. So shine that light for your depressed person. Show them that you are there and that they will never have to fight alone. Be their strength when they have so little. Allow them to cling to your light, so that they can keep fighting and claw their way out of the pit of darkness.
5. Put on your oxygen mask.
Whenever you take a flight on a commercial plane, the safety briefing by the air stewards always covers the oxygen masks falling from the ceiling in the case of an emergency. They always tell you that you must put on your own mask before helping others including children. This is the best advice for caring for someone with depression. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you can offer help to another. Make sure that you are eating right and getting enough rest. Try reducing your stress and exercising. While these are not easy things to do when you’re caring for someone, they are so important in the long run. Depression is often not a sprint. It can take months for a person to recover. So take care of you. Look after yourself. Be good to you. If you don’t put on your oxygen mask you won’t be able to be there to put on your loved one’s.
Being severely depressed was honestly the most difficult time of my entire life. I got so low so often that I honestly didn’t think I would be here to write this blog post. I wanted to die. And I know that fact broke Scott’s heart. He felt completely helpless. He felt that there was nothing he could do that would take my pain away. But he was wrong. Just being there with me, holding my hand and sitting with me through the tears helped me more than he will ever know. He gave me space to recover and he took the pressure off me to allow me to find a way to cope. He constantly loved me and while I wasn’t capable of showing love in return, he continued to shower me with love. That is what I held onto in my deepest darkest days. That ‘s why I’m still here. That’s why depression didn’t win.
So if I could offer any advice for caring for someone with a mental illness, I’d say love them. Be with them. Encourage them to move. Feed them. And give them the space they need to fight their demons. It is so much easier to fight the fight of your life when you know that someone is standing by your side. When you know that someone has your back. That someone will never leave you no matter how unlovable you feel. Caring for someone with depression can be incredibly challenging and you may often feel like you are not making any progress. But hang in there. Keep trying. Keep loving. That’s what beats depression. That’s what saves lives.