Depression: Helping Those Who Suffer
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"Experts consult; then move on. Friends and family keep at it." - Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness
Much has been written on the topic of depression, some worthy of the press received, others not. Sadly, many of the newsworthy articles on this issue pose more questions than they answer. Seems everyone has an expert opinion on the whys and reasons for suffering from this debilitating problem.
While not everyone would agree on why a person gets depressed, or even how much of the experience is physically versus emotionally driven, one aspect of this condition is pretty clear. The one who is depressed isn't the same person he/she once was, and while recognizing this fact, the depressed individual frequently pushes away those closest to them during those times when their need for support is greatest. This paradox alone can be frustrating to loved ones and friends of the depressed person for a variety of reasons.
The now depressed man or woman doesn't exhibit enthusiasm about anything; what once drove and inspired now lays dormant and discarded. There used to be a "give and take" to the relationship that is now overwhelmingly one-sided. Dr. Welch's observation that "...we all shift back and forth between our roles as physician and patient" is especially telling as caring people continue to give without getting anything in return. It is the tenacious soul who preserves despite repeated perceptions of rejection by their depressed friend.
For those who seek to support and encourage a depressed loved one, Dr. Welch cautions these helpers that they will experience resistance and it will be hard at times to continue pursuing a loving relationship. "Sometimes you will grow weary in loving. We all do. You will genuinely love, but it will seem fruitless or irrelevant. It won't seem to matter to the depressed person. But know this: your love makes a difference. That doesn't mean one concerted push to love will snap anyone out of depression. By itself, your love will not change anyone."
For the depressed, time can stand still. For those observing their emotionally distraught friend, time doesn't pass quickly enough. They reason that time in abundance has already been spent in this "phase" and they become impatient for life to get back to normal.
While no one can predict how long a depressive season will endure, friends can gently promote a few healthy patterns:
- Encourage daily structure that includes regular times for eating/exercising/sleeping.
- Set up a simple schedule to accomplishing one new specific task each day.
- Offer accountability by checking in daily with the depressed person.
- Learn to discern the appropriate moments to interrupt faulty speech or thinking patterns and speak the truth.
- Reassure your suffering friend that you are in it for the duration.
In close, Welch encourages continued efforts by saying, "...depressed people, like all of us, are aware of kindness and love that is willing to sacrifice. Love always leaves its mark."
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