CompassionateLove Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2015 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministries
(Today’s blog is a repost of the most popular and shared article on my website, first published two years ago.)
Depression, whether triggered by circumstances we can see or not, is a place of pain. We may experience it to some level or another, but when a person won’t get out of bed you can bet she or he is hurting badly.
I know it is hard to take care of someone who is sick. Depression is painful to watch. It challenges our agendas and causes us to sacrifice more of our time and energy. We don’t like having our plans ruined. Often, we feel helpless though this is not exactly true.
Life’s challenges and joys do not affect any two people the same. Each person with depression experiences it differently too. Even if circumstances could be exactly replicated, individuals will have unique reactions. It is tempting to think others “ought” to respond or feel as we do.
If it seems a person you care about will not move out of sheer stubbornness, laziness, or is “only” seeking attention, consider this: is it reasonable to assume that millions of people each year would choose to have their lives interrupted in such a way? It makes more sense that your loved one prefers to experience laughter, meaningful relationships, and accomplishment, does it not? Of course, no one wants to be depressed, let alone majorly so.
Yet your loved-one who is experiencing major depression needs love and affection, acceptance, and patience. Emotions are raw. Pain can be so intense that a body cannot keep up. This daily fight creates a hero with each small step forward.
Despair and a sense of helplessness continued to hold my focus for over a year following my suicide attempt. Major depression rerouted my best intentions into days staring at the walls, and moving as if every joint in my body was in slow motion. Small steps of self-care slowly led to more, then eventually to more. Sixteen months later, I was able to decide to learn what enjoying life means.
“Well, of course!” you might say. “So why doesn’t my depressed loved one do that too?”
Your loved one may not know how. Issues including stress, betrayal, shock, trauma, abuse, or other losses and disappointments may interfere. These must be addressed with appropriate timing and expertise.
Professionals in Mental Healthcare are there to help. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD, DO). They will prescribe medication; rarely do they offer therapy. Psychologists are experts in human behavior and are often therapists (PhD, PsyD). They do not prescribe medication. Licensed therapists have training to help clients cope in healthy ways.
It is of utmost importance you recognize your loved one’s depression is a complex mix of factors. Mental health is a matter of body, mind, and spirit. Addressing all three spheres is wise. You would not say to a cancer patient, “Quit having cancer!” Yet many are quick to tell a person with major depression to snap out of it. Blaming, accusing, scolding, or shaming will not make it go away any faster.
What is it you can say or do to show support?
Avoid mind-reading and assuming you know what is happening. Ask, “Are you safe? Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Do not leave a suicidal person alone. Remove all lethal items from the home. In the U.S., Call 911 in a crisis, or contact 1-800-273-TALK for advice.
Show your depressed loved one you care. In the depths of an episode, he or she may not believe “I love you.” Say it anyway. Promising, “I’m here for you,” may seem more substantial, however you must keep your word in practical ways. Broken promises reinforce a sense of rejection and worthlessness.
Help to combat your friend’s or relative’s sense of aloneness. “I’m going to work, but I’ll check on you when I get home” offers a positive look toward the future and a reminder that your concern is not temporary. “Would you like your friend to come over? I’ll call her” is a valuable service because major depression makes even tiny decisions challenging.
Set-up or offer to go with your loved one to the first appointment with a mental health professional. Do not assume this will be a quick-fix solution, and instead accept that you both may be in for a long haul. Just as there are less helpful and better equipped professionals in any walk of life, mental health professionals do not connect with every client. If your loved one is not satisfied, help find someone else.
Avoid some common reactionary mistakes. These include: “You are neglecting your family”; “Quit being so morose, it’s not good for you”; “Just go to work already”; “You’re lazy”. Comments like these are most likely attempts to change the situation to make it more comfortable. They are not helpful.
Place emphasis on the value of the person instead of on disappointments. Focus on the person and not his or her behavior by saying, “I am glad you are alive.” Your encouragement, “Stay with me, we’ll get through this together,” may be met with a blank stare. Nonetheless, this type of message matters.
Above all else, just be there. Sit by that bed and do not say anything. Read a book, do your homework, banking, or research on your laptop. Get on Facebook or Twitter and enjoy your friends while your majorly depressed loved one lays next to you. It is ok to laugh, cry, or share a story from your day. Keep your expectations for responses low, and just be there.
Compassionate love learns to meet people where they are.
Today’s Helpful Word
1 Corinthians 13:4,5
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…”
To learn how a relationship with Jesus Christ creates eternal hope, click here
***** COMMENTS ALWAYS WELCOME (see tab below) 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, in the U.S. please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help are yours.
*pictures from qualitystockphotos.com