When we have depression, we act differently. We get angry, moody, and pessimistic. We don’t feel like doing anything, and we wallow in our sadness for weeks on end. We get headachy and have cramps, stomachaches without a cause. We can’t sit still and we get tired easily. We either eat too much or too little, and we can’t concentrate for very long. We talk and/or move more slowly, and more obviously, have harmful thoughts and actions related to suicide or self harm. Not every person has every symptom, but the big ones are feeling empty, sad, and irritable.
Depression is more common in people who have a family history of it, have experienced some sort of trauma or life-changing event, are stressed, and/or have certain physical/mental illnesses or are taking certain medications.
The things we can do and the things you should encourage us to do are to get exercise and be active, spend time with people, move important decisions out of the way until we are feeling better.
Depression is a serious issue taken not-so-seriously by the people who don’t have it. It’s more than a mental illness. It destroys your mind, body, and soul. It annihilates everything you know about yourself, and it kills you from the inside out.
If you know what it feels like to want to be gone, to have never existed, day after day after day, and if you know what it means to close your eyes and wish you were dead, you know what it feels to be me.
So I’m writing about what people without depression can do to help people with depression, because, aside from large textbooks in the library in the mental health section, nobody ever writes about what others need to do. I’ve read many articles that talk about depression and the effects of it, but never have I seen one that talked about what people can and can’t do around people with a mental illness.
I’ve been on both sides of the equation; the one receiving help, and the one giving help. And in the giving side, I had no idea what to do, what to say, how to feel, and where to go for help.
1. Don’t talk to us about our medications all the time. It makes us feel like all you think we’re made of are the drugs we take. That all our happiness is coming from is the little pill we take in the morning and the evening.
2. Don’t tell us to “get over it.” It makes us feel ignored and embarrassed. And we are more likely to try something bad if we know that no one cares.
3. Be careful with depression/suicide/rape jokes. A lot of us have suicidal thoughts, and you telling other people to kill themselves over something silly makes us really mad. Some of us know someone who has been raped, so rape jokes aren’t appropriate either. It’s not called being butthurt. It’s called being scarred.
4. Don’t constantly tell us things will get better. But be supportive. The last thing we want is someone who completely ignores us after we spill our guts to you. At the same time, we don’t want to hear about the “light at the end of the tunnel” too often, and we don’t want to hear about it every time we talk about how sad we are. After hearing it about 15 times, we kind of close off to it and it makes us angry. We want to know someone is there, so maybe sharing a personal experience and how you got over it would be nice, not just saying “you’ll get there,” and not providing any evidence or support for you idea. And don’t make promises.
5. Don’t think we’re “doing it for attention.” Some of us are, but they need help too. Anyone who is doing harmful things to themselves for attention needs intervention as much as the rest of us. Not everybody who cuts themselves does it for attention. Scientifically, it releases endorphins that make us feel happier. It gives us a rush. And sometimes, we think we deserve the pain. So we cut ourselves to find a rush and to find punishment. Not for attention. It’s a common misconception that everyone who harms themselves does it because they want attention.
6. Don’t leave us alone when we’re sad. Sometimes we want company but don’t know how to ask for it. We push people away. But at the same time, don’t constantly text/call us. Make us feel important by texting first, but don’t do it all the time. Once every 2-3 days is appropriate. And if we don’t respond, don’t push us.
7. Realize that we don’t want to cause you trouble. We don’t want to be a bother. Let us help you, and we will feel happier and of use if you ask for help, so please, if you know we’re good at something, please ask us to help you out with it. Especially if you’re older. We will be SO HAPPY.
8. Don’t talk about us all the time. Talk about yourself. It helps us know, subtly, that you care about us. We like listening. But also ask how we are .We will appreciate it if you do both.
9. Don’t feel discouraged if we don’t come to you for help. Even though you said we can talk to you all the time, we don’t want to bother you. But be there for us if we get sad. If we text/call you, answer (if you’re not busy), and just listen.
10. Ask if we’re okay. Twice. We will say we’re fine the first time, but the second time we’ll have a greater chance of telling you the truth.
11. Don’t spend all your time with us. Boundaries are important. Healthy boundaries are even more so. If you feel yourself becoming sad, talk to someone. Do NOT try to “fix” us, you are not a therapist. Just a friend. And the only thing friends can do, unfortunately, is listen, support, and encourage. If you feel like we are in danger, call someone. Tell us to call someone.
These were eleven things I wish you knew about depression. I hope you will be able to help your loved one by being there for them every step of the way. Depression is awful, but to have a friend by your side through it all makes it just a little bit better.
Here are some numbers to call in case you or your loved one is considering harming themselves:
CRISIS TEXT HOTLINE: 741-741
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255