Depression is called a “disease,” but it is so much more; it’s a state of separation. People suffering from depression tend to feel separate from everything and everyone, including themselves. The word “depressed” is frequently misused in our society. Many people use the word depressed to describe when they are feeling sad, but “depression” is so much more than sadness. There are a variety of factors in depression, as well as varying degrees per individual; it can be all of them or a mixture of them, which is why depression is often easily mistaken or overlooked. Many of the depressed people themselves do not recognize their symptoms for what they truly are. Some of the main debilitating factors are: A tendency to feel lost and alone, feelings of hopelessness, unmotivated and disinterested in most or all things, an inability to think clearly, lethargy, a disturbance in eating or sleeping or both (i.e. binge eating or insomnia) and crying inexplicably. Some manage to continue functioning but do so with symptoms interfering significantly. Others can be around many people and still feel terribly alone.
Depression has many masks and some sufferers even hide it intentionally out of shame and fear. Others minimize their symptoms not wanting to admit they are depressed and even lie to their doctors resulting in being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This confusion of recognition in itself is a huge problem. It is also common for those who encounter a depressed person to feel uncertain as to “how to react” or “what to do,” and feel awkward and helpless. This helplessness tends to make people want to fix things or run away, but those who stay and want to help would benefit greatly from detailed guidelines that explain exactly how to accommodate what is needed. It isn’t easy for those observing depression to understand why the person suffering doesn’t just jump up and act on the suggestions given as solutions when they seem so possible and realistic, but looking through the eyes and experience of depression is nothing like the reality others see. People who mean well and try to “fix” the depressed with suggestions or solutions tend to do so in an unemotional manner and depression is an emotional and usually chemically imbalanced state, so to the depressed, cerebral offerings feel invalidating and the furthest from they are truly needing, which comes from the heart; understanding, sensitivity, compassion, support and love.
That natural tendency for others to want to fix a depressed person can be destructive for several reasons, a few being: The unintentionally harmful assessment that they “need to be fixed,” which only serves as confirmation to the depressed person that they are in fact broken, and are as defective as they already view themselves; another is, any of those offered “solutions,” may sound relatively simple to those not depressed, but they sound confusing to those unable to think clearly, causing additional feelings of overwhelm. Sometimes, even hearing suggestions while depressed can feel overwhelming because it contributes to the already existing feelings of guilt for not doing what they themselves have already thought of but feel too immobilized to accomplish with no energy, hope or desire to achieve them.
Depression makes it appear and feel like there is no answer, no matter what the suggestion or offer of help, which subsequently increases the horrible feelings of hopelessness and futility; and, what increases their feelings of isolation is the repeated proof that no one understands what they’re going through, as indicated by the intellectual and sometimes patronizing suggestions they receive. This can cause them to get defensive which confuses those who thought they were helping. Many depressed people are so consumed by their overwhelming “cocoon of depression” that it doesn’t even occur to them to reach out for help, and for some, the depression worsens due to not having anyone to reach out to. Depression can easily create the perception and belief that you aren’t worthy of help, or for that matter even asking for it and all you feel is defective and lost in the maze of your dark world. Then there are those who think of it and want to call someone but feel scared to do so for fear of other’s reactions, or worse, interference that can feel threatening, i.e. being taken out of their surroundings that feel safe while depressed or being taken to a hospital against their wishes and losing control of whether or not they can leave.
Depressed people who have previously felt confident and competent, and still do at times, feel they can’t reveal their depression to others for fear that the labels of incapable and incompetent will remain no matter what else changes down the road; this tends to cause them to isolate all the more, intensifying the depression. The world at large needs to learn more about the needs of the depressed, other than the list of symptoms and known chemical solutions, to ensure that the whole person is addressed; with the increasing global catastrophes and personal crises happening more frequently we had better. We all need to know what to do if it happens to us or someone we know. Understanding and compassion are at the forefront of what is needed, followed by the very necessary practical help and support. Listening to what the depressed person’s perception is, to understand the darkness they are experiencing, is necessary no matter how scary; and if you listen with your intellect it will make no sense, since there is no logic found in that darkness. If you think you are scared of it imagine how it feels to them! Listening to all they have to say, and really hearing them, extends the gift of validation and dignity, as well as alleviating much of their aloneness with it.
The unexplained crying bouts and emotional outbursts increases the discomfort and feelings of helplessness of others, which only stresses the importance of the person present checking in with their own heart to ensure they are focusing on being emotionally present; just “being with them” with compassion, caring and empathy is the greatest gift you can give. Being with people who are crying, including those not suffering from How Does Grief Counselling Work, makes a person feel less alone and comforted. That alleviation of feeling all alone with depression is enormously helpful, so for those who truly want to help, learn what it takes to “be emotionally available.” So many people find being emotionally available challenging, but it’s necessary for everyone, not just the depressed. Some depressed people want or need to talk or cry, or both, to get things out that have been bottled up inside, whether relevant to their present circumstances or not. For others it’s the opposite, they just want company and don’t want to think or talk. If they do want to talk, remember to just listen and don’t intellectualize or try to fix whatever they verbalize, they feel great safety from someone who listens from an emotional point of view. AFTER they’re done with their venting or verbal unloading you could ask them if they would like some suggestions. If you just offer suggestions, the depressed person could feel overwhelmed, due to not feeling like they could possibly accomplish what is said and feel worse for it, but asking them if they would like some suggestions empowers them (since this particular question feels like caring in the way they need) because it indicates they can have control over something, at a time that they feel they have no control at all. This feels empowering to make a choice and decision in an area they feel capable, which may seem small to others but is positive and huge to them.
If you clearly recognize a person is depressed and mention it and they try to minimize it, trying to hide it, don’t let that sway you if you feel your recognition is accurate, be gentle and venture in slowly, especially if they are not ready for the depression to be visible; start with caring, nurturing gestures; fixing them a cup of tea, or something to eat, sitting and talking (but don’t go deep and heavy right away if they seem reluctant, unless they do first), watching TV or a movie together or if they are open to it, getting outside for a walk and some fresh air. Sometimes leaving the house when depressed can feel too exposing and unsafe. Even trying to decide what to wear and getting dressed can feel overwhelming for depressed people (when mentally confused, making any decision can feel too challenging) so lending a practical hand in this area would be helpful as well. Perhaps they need other practical help like food in the house (because a lot of depressed people have isolated and have not gone to the store or even eaten for that matter) or some form of medicine, or if they haven’t showered for a while gently encouraging them to take a shower; volunteering to pick out their clothes for them and literally leading them to the shower and doing the prep work, turning on the water and adjusting the temperature, laying out the towel, shampoo, etc. These things may seem small and insignificant to people not depressed but they are significant to those who can’t think clearly and have no motivation for the slightest things.
People often do not understand how much practical help is needed when a person is depressed person due to the overwhelm factor. You can ask what is needed to see if they are able to say but often you might have to look around and see what needs to be done or what hasn’t been done in a while. Perhaps do the dishes, or tidy up (when depressed it is natural to let everything go), open the windows for air and light, make the house more comfortable instead of feeling like a cave or prison. These are things that a depressed person might very well not think of. Depression can be very confusing. Thoughts tend to go in circles and it feels exhausting so you just give up even trying to make the smallest decisions.
What can help a person consumed by depression the MOST is someone acknowledging how they are feeling; the sadness, the aloneness, the inability to think clearly and feeling lost and everything else they are actually experiencing without judgment! Acknowledging the reality that they are experiencing is joining them where they feel the most alone and changing that. Most people are afraid to do this because they think they are encouraging the depression or sadness but the opposite is true. It makes the depressed person feel less alone.
Depressed people feel so full of despair and hopelessness that frequently they experience suicidal feelings, but in actuality it’s not their life they want to end it’s the tunnel of pain, darkness and isolation; but the distorted perception of depression does not afford them the ability to make the distinction between the two. If you or anyone you know might be suffering from depression or even suspect so, don’t let fear, shame or judgment stop you from reaching out for help, to family, a friend or a professional; no one has to be alone in the dark. Until depression is addressed successfully we will continue to watch many people slip away into darkness. The rest of the world must learn to embrace and include those suffering from this dark demon to help bring them back to the light.