Soon we will get to unwrap the presents under the tree and what will we find? A book, a new sweater, or a gift certificate to your favorite store may be hiding under the pretty wrapping paper. But one thing you won’t find in a box or bag and tied with a bow is the gift of mental health. Yet this is a gift that we all wish we could give to loved ones, family, and friends. This is also a gift we wish we could receive. If only it were that easy. Although mental health is not a tangible gift we can give to another, there are ways to help our loved ones and friends as they make their journey towards wellness.
Here are some ways that you can give to the people in your life who may be struggling with a mood disorder this year. The great thing about these “gifts” is that they are free, easy to give, and may make more of a difference to the recipient than anything you can fit into a box.
• Empathy and understanding go a long way to support a loved one who is struggling with depression. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. Sympathy is a feeling sorry for whereas empathy is a feeling with someone. My personal definition of empathy is that you are able to walk in the other person’s emotional shoes. Nobody can ever truly know what another person is feeling or experiencing but we can try to imagine how we would feel in a similar situation. For more details about empathy and how to express it, please read my post about providing verbal support to depressed loved ones.
• Reinforce and support any attempts by your loved one to get well. Sometimes people who are in the thick of depression are unable to participate in many activities even daily chores. Calling attention to what the person has not accomplished only serves to deepen depression and makes most people feel worse. Praise your friend or loved one for any small steps in their day to day functioning even if it is getting out of bed and taking a shower.
• Eliminate barriers to getting help. It is true that you cannot force someone into treatment or therapy but you can make the process easier for your depressed loved one or friend to make that choice. When I was suffering from a major depressive episode in my twenties, one of my co-workers and best friends made a phone call for me to the local mental health clinic and handed me the phone. I could have refused to take the phone or make the appointment but I didn’t. It was the best thing my friend could have done for me because initiating that first step seemed too difficult for me at the time.
Likewise, I have accompanied friends to their therapy session and waited for them in the waiting room. Offering to drive your loved one to counseling or physically waiting for them may give them the emotional support they need to take that first step of seeking mental health treatment.
• Encourage but don’t pressure your friend or loved one to get out of the house. Sometimes a change in perspective can do a world of good for someone who is feeling depressed. Getting out for a walk or viewing nature can brighten one’s spirits even if it is temporary.