5 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Loved One
Brains are tricky things. I mean, generally they allow us to function and scroll through Twitter and stuff, but sometimes they'll sputter to a halt and start whispering that we need to kill ourselves. It really is a mixed bag. I've been clinically depressed for about six years, and there's still so much stigma attached that even well-meaning people feel like they just have no idea what to say to someone in my situation. Well, maybe we can start with some things you probably shouldn't say.
"You're Still Depressed? Aren't You Taking Your Meds?"
It's easy enough to believe that once medicine is introduced, an illness will be cured. That's what we've been conditioned to believe, and hey, it works when you have the shits. Depression isn't combated so easily, though. And because it's so stubborn, medications tend to have super-fun "bedding in" periods, with symptoms that range from feeling even more depressed to losing your sex drive. It really is just a treat for everyone involved. Also, around 1 in 3 depressed patients don't see a benefit even after several attempts at treatment, and each switch can have weird side effects, like spontaneous "electric shock" sensations in the brain. The pills are often just the beginning of a different, weirder battle.
For me, once I found medication that didn't knock me out / make me fall over all the time / remove all feeling from my vagina (seriously), it still wasn't what we think of as a "cure." As a friend in a similar situation once told me, "It lifts the darkness enough for you to make a plan to stop this from attacking your brain." A combination of medication, therapy, and begrudgingly going running and doing yoga has been the best concoction for me so far, but not only is that not a universal cure, it may not even keep working for me. The brain will change, life will change, what works today may not work next year.
So if you're on the outside trying to help, resist the urge to assume your loved one is neglecting their meds or otherwise failing to treat themselves just because the pills didn't cure their depression like it was a damned headache. If you want to help, keep an eye out for any side effects. It's hard to self-diagnose changes in mood or behavior -- there's a good chance you'll notice before they will. I'm not saying you should create an evidence board with pinned red string linking each errant comment to the exact time of their last dose, but if you've noticed they've become particularly couch-bound or twitchy since they started Sertraline, it's probably worth throwing it out there.
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"You Need To Get Out Of The House, Let's Go Out For A Drink!"
Alcohol can be a wonderful thing, of course, but it's also a depressant and will make symptoms worse in the long term. If you're trying to cheer up a friend who's struggling with depression, this is a cruel trick disguised as a gorgeous martini. Unless someone has made a conscious decision to take some time off the sauce, it's difficult for them to refuse an invitation to a bar, and even harder to not drink while they're there. Alcohol is the supposed antidote to depression's devious collaborator social anxiety, so they may feel like mingling in a crowd without it is unthinkable.
All of this is rich coming from me, who reaches for booze more readily than Trump reaches for petty nicknames. But I know that the following day's misery pit really isn't worth the previous night's Coyote Ugly reenactment. I've gotten to the point where if I know I'm doing something "lively" with friends, I'll make sure not to schedule anything important for the following day because the strain of the pretense of happiness combined with the depressive effects of the booze will render me dark and useless.
Not that you should just let your friend become a permanent muttering lump under a blanket. One tip you see a lot is to ask them if they want to go for a walk. It's not as exciting as the bar (well, depending on the bar), but excitement isn't the goal here. Walking next to someone is an opportunity to chat without having to make eye contact, which can in turn help someone open up about what might be troubling them. It's also a chance to look at some things that are scientifically proven to be uplifting, like trees and nature and children falling off bicycles. It's low-stress, it's exercise, and unlike the bar, it's free.
"Here's Why You Should Be Happy, Like Me!"
Dealing with someone who has too much enthusiasm is annoying at the best of times (hi, James Corden), let alone when you're feeling like you need to hide from the world. When I'm feeling close to rock bottom, I just want to lock myself away in the dark. If that's not possible and people around me are clearly trying to be extra! happy! to cheer! me! up! then I get an added dose of guilt thrown in.
Depression has this super fun way of convincing us that we're a burden on all our friends and ruining their lives by existing. If those friends are quite obviously going above and beyond to be extra super happy cheery, then we'll A) know, B) feel guilty for making them do it, and C) feel worse because we're bringing them down.
Professionals agree, by the way. "What you are doing is downplaying the gravitas of the depressed person's plight," says counselor Philip Karahassan, "by making the depressed person feel that their depressive situation is not important and that they are silly or wrong for the way that they connect to the situation." You can let them talk about how they're feeling without thinking your happiness has to defeat their depression in a duel.
Personally, I appreciate support that avoids IRL interactions altogether, like a text asking how I'm feeling before offering up some options for the evening based on my current level of gloom. "If you can't be chirpy around people tonight, how about we watch Will & Grace in silence and be alone, but together?" Or if things are bad enough, offer to run me a bath and leave me alone.
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"You Should Listen To Me, I've Beaten Depression Myself!"
Every experience of depression is beautifully fucked up in its own special way, and everyone getting crushed underneath it has their own unique struggle. If you've been on meds, been to therapy, or even been hospitalized, don't assume your experience has been anything like your friend's. It's very easy for your advice to stray into "My success is proof that you just aren't trying hard enough."
Don't get me wrong, support is nice. I find it helpful when friends tell me that they've felt like this before, or been to therapy, or had medication. But the good messages come down to "I've felt something similar, please don't be embarrassed, I'm here if you want to talk about stuff," and not "Ooh yeah, totally got ya, I've been there and you'll be fine in a month, calm down."
Ultimately, if you're living with someone with depression, the key thing is not to ignore it or judge it. If I'm making that sound easy, I know it's not. In fact ...
"Me? I'm Doing Fine. Really. Fine!"
Living with the Great Depressed can really take it out of you, right? Trying to understand their situation, planning around bouts of inactivity, never expressing your frustration with someone who acts like they can't walk from the sofa to the mailbox even though they appear to be perfectly healthy ...
But it's OK. Squashing down your feelings because they haven't been diagnosed as anything, carrying on as if everything's great and never acknowledging that you're finding this really fucking hard will be fiiiiine. That resentment will surely never come leaping out of the darkness to ambush you when you least expect it.
When I was at my lowest, I later found out that it was really tough for my boyfriend because he "never knew who was going to be at home that night." Was I going to be faking my way through dinner and pretending to laugh at Drag Race, or would I be locked in the bedroom and totally unresponsive? We actually devised a very scientific system where I'd text him a rain cloud if I was feeling shit, or a score out of ten and an actual message if I was feeling alright.
This can -- surprise! -- affect their mental health, which is compounded by the feeling that their own problems aren't worth attention. He can't possibly complain about his stressful client call to someone who occasionally wants to kill herself, since that's so much worse. If you're trying to support and/or care for a depressed person, it can feel like they're sucking away all of your energy. It's draining enough that even therapists seek out the help of other therapists to deal with it, and they're getting paid.
If you're living with a depressed person, or are just close to one, both of you need support. Needing help isn't selfish and refusing it isn't noble. If you love someone who's battling depression, you're in the battle too.
For more, check out If Antidepressant Commercials Were Honest - Honest Ads:
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