Oct 31, 2019
Today we’re talking about how to help someone with depression. October is National Depression Awareness Month. Earlier in the month, we’ve heard several guests share their experiences and their hope-filled perspectives as it pertained to depression. Yet I felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t also have an episode addressing how to help someone with depression because depression doesn’t occur in isolation—it impacts our spouses, our family, our friends, and others around us. Mental health awareness is two-fold: One learning to live with it; the other learning to love through it. If you have a spouse, friend, or loved one with depression, and you want to know how to help, this is the episode for you.
By 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide: greater than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Depression is considered a medical condition, specifically, a mood disorder. Everyone’s experience with depression is different but there are some general, common signs and symptoms:
-Change in mood (sad, blue, irritable, agitated, angry)
-Change in socialization
-Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities
-Decreased energy level which can make normal daily tasks difficult to accomplish
-Changes in sleep and appetite (sleeping and/or eating too much or too little)
-Self-medicating (drugs, alcohol, spending, gambling, shopping, work)
-Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
While we can be prone to feel helpless to help someone with depression, particularly if we have never experienced it ourselves, there are some practical things we can do to help:
Often, people can figure out what to DO for someone, but they often stumble over what to SAY. In my private practice, and through my own personal struggles, I’ve found this to be a huge stumbling block.
There are definitely things NOT to say:
(All of these things convey a lack of sensitivity to the pain they are experiencing. You’d never say these things to someone who has cancer, and depression is just as much a medical diagnosis.)
(That is true, but it doesn’t make someone struggling with depression feel any better. Even a tornado passes, but it leaves damage and devastation in its wake.)
(First of all, many with depression consider suicide, so it’s never a good idea to joke about dying. Secondly, most with depression don’t care about getting stronger, they just want to survive.)
(Isn’t this true for everyone? But saying that doesn’t even acknowledge the pain the person with depression is in. And why is their pain any less valid?)
(If you’ve never struggled with depression, you don’t know how they feel. Even if you have experienced depression, the situation and symptoms and complicating factors may be entirely different. It’s better not to even try to compare.)
Helpful things TO say:
The person with depression often can’t love themselves much less believe that others love them. They need to hear this now more than ever, even if they don’t believe it.
Someone struggling with depression feels so alone. They need to know that others care enough to be present with them in their pain, rather than trying to fix it.
When struggling with depression, self-esteem is often at risk. They feel all alone and need the assurance that their standing in your eyes and your life doesn’t change just because of the depression.
While I do not recommend saying you know how someone feels, I do suggest you offer kindness, compassion, and concern for their pain.
Often, our actions speak louder than words. When you offer to help, you enter into their pain. They may not know how you can help, but by asking the question, you open up the opportunity for dialogue.
When one is struggling with depression, the whole world looks black, and the future seems to offer only more of the same. It can be helpful to encourage them that this is a season, and they won’t always be in this place.
This can help them start to think pro-actively about things that help, and can clue you in on how you can support them. For example, if they mention that they always feel better after a walk, offer to walk with them.
This can help them step back and take a look at things they need to change (e.g. sleeping too late in the morning may leave them feeling lethargic and sluggish all day, so setting an alarm to get up earlier might combat that), and can also help you better know how to support and pray for them.
Depression can leave one feeling incredibly lonely, isolated, and as if no one cares or understands. This simple statement conveys support. You aren’t trying to change them or solve the problem, just be present.
Remember, someone else’s experience with depression isn’t your fault and you can’t “fix it” for them-only God can do that. But you can support.
Words get us into trouble so often, when really, just being present often conveys much greater support than having the perfect thing to say or advice to try to make things better.
In my private practice, and when I speak on the subject, I’m often asked if a loved one should mention suicide with someone experiencing depression. I find that so many people are afraid that if they mention suicide, it’ll “put the idea into their head.” Let me assure you, you’re not that powerful. If someone is deeply depressed, they’ve probably already had some thoughts in that direction already.
I’m sure you would much rather ask, “I know things are pretty dark right now. Have you ever thought of hurting yourself?” than you would, “Why didn’t s/he tell me how they were feeling?” or “Why didn’t I do something?” If you ask a friend of someone you love if they’re contemplating suicide, it shows you care, and it opens up a dialogue to let them express their true feelings and can be the first step toward getting them help.
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About Dr. Bengtson
Dr. Bengtson studied neuroscience and is board certified in clinical neuropsychology. She established her own clinical practice in the Dallas area. From her professional and personal life, she recognized a deep lack of understanding of the call to “renew our minds” and the transformational effects a robust understanding of this has on our physical and mental health and outlook.
Dr. Bengtson lives to foster regeneration and renew life in her listeners. She recognizes brokenness in her life and others’ and offers steps we can take as we walk with Christ through the thin places.
Dr. Bengtson authored the award-winning “Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” and its award-winning companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study.” Her third book, “Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises” will be available in September 2019 (Revell). She blogs at DrMichelleB.com and maintains a Monday morning radio show and podcast at GraceandTruthRadio.world. She is a frequent guest on Fox News Radio and speaks at conferences and churches internationally.