How To Help Those With Mental Disorders of The Holidays
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.
When you are in a state of depression it can seem like getting out of the house requires too much energy. If you are like me, it can also be daunting to think about bringing your depression out into the public spotlight where other people may see you. In this instance it may be good to offer your depressed loved one or friend a quiet peaceful place devoid of crowds or other people where you can just sit and take in the scenery. A backyard or garden is a good spot for this purpose or any other secluded area outdoors. If the weather is poor then a visit to a coffee shop during the least crowded time of day may provide a gentle destination for a change of scenery.
• Give unconditional love and friendship. The thing a depressed person fears the most may be the loss of love and acceptance from friends and loved ones. Sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that in the state of self loathing it becomes easier to push others away and to reject loved ones before they have the chance to reject you.
Being around someone with a mood disorder can be extremely challenging. There may be a lot of anger thrown your way or else a hopelessness which can be hard to counter. Your depressed friend or loved one may be seeking a validation of their feelings of low self worth in how you react. It is really important that you somehow convey that you are sticking by them through this and that they are still worthy of your love and care.
This is not to say that you become a doormat and accept any sort of abuse. And you do respect the decision if the other person is clear about ending your relationship as part of their growth. Love doesn’t mean you become a masochist or cling onto a relationship which no longer exists. But if it is a situation where you and the other person are in this for the long haul, then you will need to work at expressing love especially during the most difficult times.
It would be my fondest wish to take away the suffering caused by depression for all of you. I wish I could make everyone feel well, whole, and happy. But this is something out of anyone’s control. We can’t make anyone else happy or cure their depression. What we can do though, is still very powerful. We have the ability to give support, love, and care to those people in our lives who are facing incredible challenges brought on by having a mood disorder.
For those of us who understand the despair and hopelessness of depression, it is imperative that we give back to those who are struggling. Pick up the phone. Call the friend or family member who is in need of a kind word or just someone to listen. Give to others what you would want given to you. This is the gift that money can’t buy…the gift of human connection.
From all of us at MyDepressionConnection, we wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday. Thank you to all of our members for reaching out here and for giving your kindness and support to others who need you.