Scolding a Severely Depressed Person for Being Depressed Makes it Worse

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2015 Nancy Virden

photo-24819926-couple-having-argumentSam was severely depressed. He spoke of suicide rather freely, and one could tell by his behavior he was upset and struggling. In support group he reported that a drive to isolate and hide had plopped him in his closet where he shut the door. His wife was frustrated and didn’t know what to do.

She hollered at him to get up. He could not. Overpowering waves of hopelessness had made it temporarily physically strenuous and mentally exhausting to get off the floor.

Sam’s mental health had been going downhill for weeks. He was on leave from work, ignored his small son, and sat around the house doing nothing. Financially, his wife was supporting the family and stressing out about it too. She wanted her husband back, her son’s father back, and peace. She was doubtlessly frightened, so she hollered.

It is difficult to remember that a majorly depressed person is temporarily ill. Depression has brought him to a point of helplessness. He is confused, and cannot be who he wants to be. Even as Sam spoke of his desire to return to work and play with his son, his depression had him hiding in a closet. Guilt made him feel worse. He wondered aloud if his family would be better off without him.

No one would try to scold out cancer or yell at the flu. Depression is invisible yet real. Behavior that appears lazy or selfish is not necessarily a character flaw. It can take a painfully long time to recover.

Major depression saps reason in that thoughts are extremely negative.  Logic that seems obvious to observers, such as “you matter” may not be so clear to the majorly depressed person. Sam’s wife’s plea for him to “get up and do something about it” did not feel like encouragement or a friendly kick in the seat. Rather, it added to his shame, guilt, and sense of failure.

What does help is joining the one hiding in the closet and telling him you love him and he is needed. Stroke his hair, read a book, whatever. Just be there physically and patiently.

Of utmost importance is to remember most of us cannot diagnose or treat another person’s mental illness. Protocol is to call for professional help. Always get a suicidal person to the hospital.

Compassionate love can prevail.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

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