After my first daughter was born, I sank into a deep and dark depression. And while it’s so hard to remember that I lost an entire year of my daughter’s life battling that depression, it’s almost harder to realize that neither I nor my husband recognized what was happening to me.
What my husband witnessed is common. People who are struggling with depression often aren’t aware of it and may not even see that they are in denial about their mental health. That can leave a loved one feeling confused, concerned, maybe even angry. Saying something may help you connect to each other. Here, experts offer us a script of what to say if someone we love is struggling with depression.
1. Pay attention.
Take note of any signs or symptoms of depression in your loved one to understand exactly how the disease may be affecting him or her.
“When someone you love seems to be suffering from depression, take notice of any changes in their behavior,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Greco, a Clinical Psychologist in California. “In an unobtrusive way, notice if habits and behaviors shift in concerning ways for an extended period of time.”
For example, she suggests paying attention if the person is sleeping more (or less), eating more (or less), detaching from friends or family, exercising less, becoming chronically glum or finding less enjoyment in work, school or social activities.
“By gently and carefully observing the behaviors in advance, you will be able to be more specific and supportive when you approach your loved one about depression,” Dr. Greco explains. “In addition, you will be able to hone in on resources that are more likely to be of benefit to your loved one.”
2. Reach out in a non-confrontational manner.
Once you have a greater awareness of the concerning depression-related behaviors and available support options, you are then more able to reach out to your loved one in a clear, non-confrontational manner, says Dr. Greco. It’s important to understand that your loved one may not recognize the disorder in him/herself and may feel attacked.
“I felt alone, very alone, and would often take out my aggression on my friends and family,” confesses one mother who experienced depression both during and after her pregnancy. “I was mad at them for how I was feeling. Somehow I made it their fault [because] I didn’t understand what was going on. No one knew what I would do next and always felt like they were walking on eggshells when around me.”
To offer your assistance in the best possible way, Dr. Greco suggests first making sure that your timing is right.
“Ask your loved one if they have a few minutes to talk over a cup of tea or hot chocolate,” she says. “ Then, invite them to sit down in a quiet place that is free from distractions.”
3. Meet them at their comfort level.
Dr. Greco notes the importance of taking into consideration how your loved one best opens up, such as if he or she is more likely to talk when on a walk or out to dinner or first thing in the morning.
“Where and how you talk about your concerns is equally important as what you say,” she explains. “If you are aggressive or fearful, your loved one may close down.”
In that comfortable talking space, voice your concerns in a non-judgmental and caring manner, she says.
“Let your loved one know what you’ve noticed, and let them know you are ready to help in any way possible.”
4. Offer support.
Before you have a talk with your loved one, come prepared with a few sources of support that are available in your area (names of a few therapists who specialize in depression, group support services for depression and any church or religious support services that may be appropriate).
“Giving your loved one a sense of guided support can feel very comforting,” notes Dr. Greco. “Many people who are depressed simply do not have the energy to seek support of their own accord.”
Offering real, clinical support and resources may also validate to your loved one that you see their depression as a medical diagnosis, not simply something “in their head.” I found that validation helpful personally, so that we could talk about depression as something that wasn’t “my fault”.
5. Don’t give up.
While it’s important to respect that depression may change your loved one’s personality temporarily, Dr. Greco maintains that it’s important to continue to offer support.
“If your loved one resists your overtures, do not give up,” she says. “It’s vital that you give your loved one the guidance, non-judgmental support and consistent loving attention they need in order to ultimately recover from depression.”
6. Take care of yourself, too.
Dr. Greco also notes that facing depression with a loved one can be a long and lonely road. “Make certain to take care of yourself — not just your loved one — during the journey out of depression,” she stresses. “If you start feeling weary or overly taxed when helping your loved one, reaching out for support is always a wise idea. “
TapGenes Take Away: Open the conversation about depression with a loved one with these six suggestions from a therapist.
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