Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
At a conference recently, a woman asked me, “How do you pull someone out of depression? What can I say to make him feel better?” My answer was of the bad-news-good news type.
First, the bad news.
You want your loved one to return to normal. Your spouse is not working and the lower-income is a challenge. You wonder when depression will loosen its grip and your relationship will be restored. The walks you used to take together, shopping sprees, watching your favorite teams fight it out on ESPN – all of this is gone. You miss your friend. Your children are suffering because their other parent is not playing with them. All your depressed loved one does is sit in front of the TV or stay in bed. I know it is difficult.
You would likely never say, “Quit having cancer!” “Why are you not working your construction job with two broken legs?” “Go out with me – you only have a 104 degree fever!” It is equally ridiculous to assume words of complaint or frustration will snap your loved one out of depression. As much as you wish you could, you do not have the power to change someone’s depression and make them normal.
Now for the good news!
Repeatedly, from dozens of people who struggle with depression, one common thread emerges. All I want is to know someone cares. This is good news because it is simple for you to do and makes a meaningful difference. Here are some ideas these same people have expressed will help:
- Silently sit next to me while I hide under the covers.
- Send me a text, an email, an IM, a card – anything!
- Small gestures count. Bring me a coffee, or a glass of water.
- Please do not break promises. If you say you will come, I am counting desperately on that.
- Cross the room and say hello at church.
- Let me know you notice I haven’t been around.
- See me for who I am when I am well, and please do not avoid me.
- Quit yelling at me. I am doing what I know to do.
- Do not give up – after a week, month, several months – keep in touch.
- If you tell me to “take a pill,” you are being a jerk.
- I may not be able to believe you when you tell me you love me. Tell me anyway.
You are in charge
You have no control over your depressed loved one. None. Nada. However, you are not helpless or trapped. You have total control over your choices. Will you respond with patience and tenderness? This is not easy, and you need to draw healthy boundaries. (See my series on caretakers’ boundaries.)
Take care of yourself. Have someone to talk to because supporting a depressed person alone will drag you under. Go out and do fun things. Treat yourself to a massage, pedicure, walk in the park, movie night, or whatever will remind you that you matter too. Eat right, sleep well, and focus on your basic needs.
I know how much you wish the situation were normal. Believe it or not, in most cases when a depressed person receives professional treatment, normalcy returns. As this progresses, let your loved one know you care.
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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.