Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2015 Nancy Virden
I meet many friends and family members of those who struggle with major depression. Usually I am asked “what can I do to help my loved one?” That question is often in the context of wanting someone to return to normal.
Offering support during a loved one’s depression can mean giving up normalcy for indefinite lengths of time, an unknown number of episodes, and during unpredictable levels of severity. It can be challenging.
Watching a loved one suffer can scare us, make us tired, bleed us of energy, and feed our anger. We are naturally disappointed with our hurting friend’s or family member’s silence, withdrawal, disinterest in typical activities, and lack of motivation. Their irritability may hurt our feelings and erode our confidence. Suicidal speech will put us on edge and perhaps in a panic. These are all obviously difficult behaviors to tolerate. It may seem personal.
Maybe this is why the number one cause of pain reported by people who struggle with depression is lack of support and understanding.
Josh* went to a party despite the continuing depression he had fought for several months. He did not act like himself, but instead was quiet and still. Barely anyone spoke to him.
At one point he overheard close friends talking about a plan to ditch the party and go somewhere else. No one told him of this plan, and he wasn’t invited. Josh’s depression took a turn for the worse. Not only was he struggling to function, but now he felt unloved, unlovable, and betrayed.
When we think it is our duty to change the mindset of a depressed person, we lose our ability to help. It won’t work. Eventually we will stop trying. In defeat or resentment we will back-off.
I suspect Josh’s friends ran out of patience waiting for him to return to normal. They had tried to cheer him up. When efforts failed to “fix” him, they assumed he wanted to be alone. Nothing was further from the truth.
Involvement does not have to wipe us out. Josh’s friends could have decided to one at a time sit with him and let him know they care. It would have been easy to allow him to just be there as they joked and conversed.
We can relax. The two most important gifts we can offer are our non-judgmental presence, and help finding professional care.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
-pictures from Qualitystockphotos.com
*Name has been changed