I have lived with someone suffering with depression for six years, at the start of their illness I didn’t understand how to help them, I was at a loss about what I should do. Thankfully now I have a much clearer idea of what we can and what we shouldn’t do when supporting someone. So here’s a list of some of the most important things I’ve learnt.
You are not responsible for their actions/mood/happiness The reality is that small things can tip a person with depression over the edge and into an awful place. I remember that if I sat in “the wrong chair”, my Dad’s day would spiral out of control. I felt responsible and so guilty that my actions caused this. The fact was that there was no way of knowing which chair was the wrong chair – I did not cause the bad mood, the illness did. Do not take responsibility for someone’s mood, for even if you acted perfectly all day everyday their mood would not improve. We can at the most support and love someone with depression but we cannot be responsible for them.
Protect yourself. one of the most important ways to be there for someone is to not become worn down and depressed yourself. Take breaks, laugh lots, make sure you have good supportive friends around you, move forward with your life goals and make your own health a priority. Depression tends to suck joy out others – make sure you fill up your own joy and happiness regularly!
Do not define the person by their illness. Whenever possible treat the person as you would have done before. In your own mind don’t see them as a new or separate person now, keep in your thoughts the person before the illness. This will be hard for you, expect to grieve a bit for the person you are missing and let yourself feel that. But don’t give up – keep remembering your loved one at their best.
If you are a Christian pray for them. I debated leaving this one out, but I have honestly seen such an improvement since praying for protection from God because of what Jesus has done, I would just feel dishonest if I left this out!
Do not feel guilty. I felt crippling guilt that I couldn’t make my Dad smile, that we had no relationship and barely spoke. I felt like I needed to do more, even though I did my best. Don’t fall into this trap, you are there loving them and caring the best you can – there is no reason to feel guilty. You can’t make a blind man see colours, no matter how hard you tried and there would be no case for guilt – it’s exactly the same with depression.
Forgive hard, forgive often. This will make hardly any difference to the person you are caring for but will make all the difference to you. Be generous with forgiveness and you will quickly feel better yourself.
Do not allow yourself to be abused. If you are being emotionally, physically or in anyway abused by the person you are caring for stop taking it. Depression is not an excuse and you are not helping them by letting them get away with it. Leave the situation and it will benefit you both.
This is not a perfect list, or a complete one. I may be totally wrong in some points or for certain situations but I have needed to learn these things myself and I truly hope they will help others too.