Compassionate Talk to Aid Depression Recovery

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

Recently I wrote about ways in which friends and relatives can help the recovery process by showing understanding during depression. In this Sharepost I'm extending these principles by considering the role of compassionate talk and how this provides further support and help on the path to recovery from depression.

Compassionate talk is a way of helping the person with depression realize they are not isolated with their emotions. One or more people may be involved in offering this support and whilst there are no fixed rules there are some guidelines worth adhering to. The first of these is not to lose sight of the fact you are trying to help the person with depression. I say this because it is sometimes all too easy for people who themselves have a history of personal crises or depression to run away with their own story. This simply burdens the person they are attempting to help and adds to the already bleak picture they may have of themselves and the world.

Sharing personal experiences of setbacks or episodes of depression can be quite useful. They must however be done in a measured way that ultimately conveys some optimism. Get it right and it sends two messages. The first message is along the lines that whilst their experience feels highly individual and the outlook seems entirely bleak, it only seems that way. This message conveys the fact that other people can and do know what they are talking about. The second part of the message is about recovery. Even though depression can take a long time to lift, and setbacks along the way are common, there is every reason to expect a positive outcome.

As anyone who has ever suffered from depression will know, time is central to the recovery process. It takes time for antidepressant medication to take effect, although this isn't always guaranteed, or it may take some trial and error. It also takes time for psychological therapies or counseling to have an effect. Depression without any intervention generally does improve, but again it takes time and the risks of a more prolonged episode increases with no support. The prospect of suffering with depression for months on end is itself a depressing thought. Compassionate talk in such circumstances is about taking things a day at a time. It's about pointing out that everyone is different and therefore recovery rates differ too. Offering hope-inspiring comments may appear wasted and sometimes it's difficult to believe the person is even listening, but gentle persistence and refraining from false optimism, is a powerful tool.

Isolation feeds depression and it speaks through people who are depressed. Very often someone who is despondent or deeply depressed will ask for time alone. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between the right for solitude and outright isolation. Staying in touch with people who are depressed is very important. Isolation feeds loneliness and despondency. The more cut off the person becomes the more life appears meaningless. When this happens there is a danger of suicidal thinking. People in a state of mild or even moderate depression should be encouraged to stay active and even continue with work if this is possible. Activity is the counterweight to passivity and compassionate talk could include encouraging the person to get dressed and get moving. Even a short walk can lift the spirits for a time and whilst the depressed person may not exactly thank you for your persistence and encouragement at the time, they will most likely acknowledge your motives and try to help where they can.