How to Help Hurting People Without Hurting Yourself: Summary of a Plan that Works

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

Nancy Virden Seminar, May-2016Your family member, co-worker, spouse, romantic partner, friend, employee, or student is depressed. Majorly depressed.  You wonder how you can help, if you should become involved, and if life will return to normal. You observe shifts in the relationship you once thought you understood. What can you do with all the mixed emotions you are experiencing? You fear being buried under stress and a case of your own depression.

The key is insight. Before we can operate in insight, we have to start with knowledge.

My seminar, “How to Help Hurting People Without Hurting Yourself” introduces you to knowledge by defining depression using analogies and stories. 

Depression is one word with two definitions. You may hear, “I am so depressed, this weather has me feeling blah.”  That is an example of the first definition: a state of being sad, low mood, feeling down. When you see someone’s behavior change and you observe uncharacteristic symptoms of dysfunction, you are more likely watching depression, the potentially disabling or fatal disease. Severe symptoms that cause observable struggle with daily functioning, occurring most of the day most days for two weeks, are necessary for a diagnosis of major depression.

Every one of us has those nights we wish we didn’t have to wake up in the morning. We all generally feel less motivated and possibly sad on a rainy day. We suffer grief, good days, great days, and bad days. Most people will never experience anything more than the blues. Normal sadness lasts a short time, even grief does not cause dysfunction or not for long.  This is why it is unhelpful to say or imply that you understand your majorly depressed friend’s feelings.

One severely depressed young man who had recently attempted suicide, was fed-up with his brother who commonly dismissed his struggle. “When he does not like how I’m acting, he tells me, ‘go take your meds.’  So I tell him, ‘If I take my meds you will still be a jerk!’ “

“How to Help Hurting People Without Hurting Yourself” invites you into an exercise of discovery and insight into your needs and strengths.  

Boundaries are not what we stop other people from doing. Think about it – we have no control over other people’s choices or over external events. None. If your depressed spouse is constantly verbally negative and demanding, you can ask him/her to stop, and you can explain your needs and how you feel about the behavior. You may even suggest ways s/he can change. As long as your expectations are for the severely depressed individual to be rational, “normal”, or even pleasant, disappointment may result.

If you want to know the power of boundaries, the first step is to draw a line around yourself. Then ask, “What will I allow in here with me? What will I accept from others? What will I carry, and how will I respond?” The only one you can control is you. The exercise presented in this seminar opens insight into your healthy boundaries. You learn what are your yes’s, and thereby what to say “no” to. You will feel free in surprising ways.

Caring for someone who is severely depressed is often stressful and exhausting. One woman dropped everything and positioned herself as her depressed friend’s savior and servant. She thought she was helping, but in three months was burned-out and ended the relationship. Boundaries could have protected her, and would have been more beneficial in the long run for both parties.

“How to Help Hurting People Without Hurting Yourself” answers your question, ‘What can I say or do to help my depressed friend?’

We grow concern for doing the right thing and saying the appropriate words when someone we care about is severely depressed. Stigma and myths on the subject so surround us, we hesitate to help out of fear. No, talking about suicide will not plant the idea in a person’s mind. Yes, when someone talks about suicide, take it seriously. No, experts are not the only ones capable of making a difference or saving a life. Yes, what you can offer within your boundaries is meaningful.

There are plenty of practical whats and hows offered in this seminar. Bottom line is, sometimes the gold standard of support is being there. Talk is not necessary, listening is. Scolding is not helpful, gentleness is. Telling a severely depressed person to get out of bed may be useless; sitting beside them while you read a book or do your bills, is not. Invitations, gifts, service, and more, are kind gestures that provide some water in the wilderness of depression. Anything you have to offer, matters, even if you think it is little.

A man who had attempted suicide felt like he was too old to have a purpose, and was just waiting to die. When his mind began to clear, he decided he wanted to combat that feeling by being active in some way. He said, “Could someone ask me to join them in some volunteer project? That would change my mindset.”

“How to Help Hurting People Without Hurting Yourself” guides you and your group with invaluable information from one who has been on both sides of the issue.

As a woman with Recurrent Major Depression, and who is a key support, I bring to you lessons hard-earned by me. These will improve your relationships with suffering people.

Please contact me for details at  Take care of yourself, you matter too.



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 is yours.



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