I have clinical depression. Long before anyone diagnosed me with an eating disorder, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It’s been 26 years since I began taking medication for this debilitating illness, and for the most part my life has been good since then. But the thing about depression, it’s cyclical. It comes on strong sometimes, breaking through the floor that my medication provides me.
During the depressed days and weeks, I hear the negative thoughts so clearly.
Nobody loves you.
You suck at everything.
The words are on repeat, spinning like a record in my dreams and waking moments alike. I’ve learned in therapy how to challenge these thoughts, providing evidence that I’m a worthwhile person and that these thoughts are just my depression talking. But what those without depression typically don’t understand is that all the psychological tools in the world are no match for the power of a deep depressive episode. You can’t outthink a mental health disease like this.
So what can you, the individual with depression, do? You need to ask for help. Waiting around for your depression to lift is miserable, and is a symptom of faulty thinking that you need to suffer alone. The help might come in the form of having someone simply hang with you and sit through the misery. It may mean getting in to see your doctor or psychiatrist for some medical help. It may mean asking folks to manage some personal and/or work issues for you while you battle the demons in your head. It may mean asking for messages of love and support on social media.
By opening yourself up to others when you’re feeling desperate, you get actual proof you deserve love, affection and attention. You get proof you are not alone in this fight. Depression is a disease of aloneness and isolation, and the best way to fight it is to do the opposite and bring people in.
So what can you, the loved one of someone with depression, do? You can step in even when the person with depression says they don’t want or need you there. Remember what I just said above, this is a disease of isolation. Sometimes, you have to do what you know is right for the benefit of the person who is struggling – even if it’s against what their disease is saying to them and to you. At age 19, I was in my first truly suicidal depressive state. I just wanted to be left to my despair, but my mother hauled me by the scruff of my neck to the psychiatrist. I was upset and angry, but somehow still grateful for my mother’s act of care. No, I didn’t show that I was grateful. But I was. Six weeks later, I was a new man. Medication can save lives. It saved mine. But the person who truly saved me was my mother. I only wish it had come sooner as my depression was active for years in retrospect.
If your loved one is already getting medical and clinical treatment, but still needs time for the depression to lift, your best action is to simply be present. Hovering and constantly checking in is typically felt as invasive, so don’t do that! But be available. Hang nearby. Read a book in the same room as your loved one. Watch TV together. Hold them and touch them if they want to be touched or held, but give them physical space if that’s what they need too. The act of love and care you are providing may not feel like much to you, but it’s vital to the person suffering to have you simply be there.
When it’s all said and done, depression comes and goes throughout the life span of those who struggle with the mental health disease. It sucks to have depression, but you don’t. Keep fighting, keep surviving, and reach out for help. You deserve it.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.