Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.
I have had clinical depression for five years. The following are a result of personal experiences; some good, and some bad. It all starts with confusion about what depression really IS. Depression and sadness are not the same thing. Everyone gets "the blues." Many people refer to that as depression. It's really a misnomer. Depression is a medical condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. When it is seen in its true light, the following ideas are much easier to understand. If you know someone who has been diagnosed with depression, or if you know someone who exhibits the symptoms of depression, please keep these tips in mind. You can't "fix" depression, but you can help someone get through it and find the help they need.
1. Don't say "it'll be okay." To an individual with depression, it will NOT be okay. Not ever. The fact that you say it will be okay when we know it won't totally destroys your credibility. It also minimizes our pain.
2. Don't say "I understand." Even if you've been diagnosed with depression yourself, you can't possibly "understand" another persons pain unless you've lived their entire life to that point. When I'm in a depressed state, I'll quickly point out the ways your life is different from mine, and I can get pretty angry. I might just shut down totally. On the flip side, I've been in a depressed state at times when my life is totally perfect and problem free. If you've never been depressed, you can't possibly understand the feeling of wanting to die when your life is, for all intents and purposes, wonderful.
3. Don't lecture. Don't hesitate to ask if a depressed loved one has been taking their medication. If things get really bad, you might be the one to talk to the doctor. You'll need to know what has and has not been taken. Don't get angry if they say no. Offer to go get them their medication and a nice glass of water. Don't lecture. We know we're supposed to take it. Reminding us that we're to blame for our situation because we chose not to swallow the pill every morning does not help.
4. Don't tell us to snap out of it, or to get some fresh air, or to take some time to re-evaluate. Re-evaluating, getting fresh air, and getting tough with ourselves doesn't make diabetes or heart disease go way. It won't make depression go away either.
5. Don't call our doctors or counselors behind our backs unless we become suicidal or you have good reason to believe we are. Once you've violated the trust and loyalty that an emotionally intense person values, it's difficult to take it back. Once it's gone, you can't help.
6. Don't forget the things you SHOULD do. Hug us. Tell us you're so sorry that we have no hope. Tell us you love us. Tell us that you'll do whatever it takes to help us, then do it. Learn everything you can about depression. It shows how much you want to help. Be supportive. Let us talk. Let us cry. Cry with us. Admit that you don't understand the pain or the feeling that dying is the only thing that will ever make it stop. Tell us you love us again. Make the phone calls to the psychiatrist or the counselor if we don't feel like doing it. Hold us. Drive us to appointments. Fight with the insurance company for us. Tell us you love us again. Thank God every day that it isn't you.
Lisa Black-Smith is a published author and mother of four children.