Advice from a mental health advocate: How to care for a depressed loved one

The first year after I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I kept it to myself. I was afraid of being judged, and I didn’t want to be seen as someone weak or vulnerable. It was only later on when I learned the value of sharing my experience–both for the sake of those ignorant of what people with mental illnesses go through, and for the rest who go through the same experiences as me.

Also suffering from anxiety and depression, I used to try to deal with my highs and lows on my own, desperately trying to gauge how I can cope with them, but I realized that it is not something that I should (and want) to do alone. I started opening up to the people closest to me and it made things so much easier.

Mental illnesses may be invisible to most of us, but it is just as real as physical injuries. These illnesses require just as much, if not, more attention from family and friends of those who are going through it. If you have a loved one who suffers from depression, here are some tips that may help you in taking care of them.

 

1. Understand that depression is not the same as sadness

The most common misconception about depression is that it’s the similar sadness. Well, it’s not. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and can sometimes be triggered by traumatic events. Sadness, on the other hand, is a basic human emotion, something that we normally feel from time to time. When caring for someone with depression, we have to be careful not to invalidate their depression, and to understand that what they are going through is not something that can be cured with just “good vibes.”

2. Listen instead of trying to give advice

People who are depressed go through moments of severe hopelessness. During these times, it’s best if we become their shoulder to cry on. Instead of preaching to them how you cope with your own issues, listen to their thoughts instead, and help them rationalize their unreasonable thoughts. Listen without judgement and don’t try to “fix” their problems.

3. Tell them that they are not alone

Assuage their feeling of being alone by being there for them–literally or virtually. When you feel like your friend is depressed, take time to message them, ask how they’re doing, and mention that you are there for them. If they have suicidal tendencies, try to be present, and make sure that they won’t do anything that can harm themselves.

4. Remind them that it’s going to be okay

Although depression is a medical condition that is hard to cure and treat, remind your loved one that better days are coming. The dark days that they are going through may seem endless, but it will pass. Give them hope that they can go through it. Remind them that they are stronger than their depression.

5. Encourage them to seek professional help

At the end of the day, mental illnesses like depression are always best treated by a professional. If they resist going to a doctor, be supportive and tell them that even though it might be scary to face a diagnosis, it will do more help than harm.

These tips are only shorthand guides for caring for people with depression. If you want to better take care of them, talk to them and know what kind of support they need. Not everyone is the same, so be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If you have suicidal thoughts and you feel like you have no one to go to, call HOPELINE at 0917558HOPE (4637). They are open 24/7 and have helped me go through a lot of hard times.

By Bea Amador