As someone who supports a friend or partner with depression you’ve probably seen just how quickly the odd passing comment or observation can shut down communication. Your attempts to help or support are thrown back in your face leaving you wondering what you’ve done. Well, we’re only human, and sometimes it really isn’t clear why we’re causing upset. Then again, some roadblocks to communication can be avoided just by choosing a different approach. Here are a few examples:
It may seem that a depressed person is unable to make decisions. For some this may be case but for others it’s possible to mistake inertia as inability to make a choice. A typical roadblock may occur when a caregiver starts to direct behavior. ‘Look, you’ve got to stop . . .’ The motives are sound but not everyone likes being told what to do, so you may meet resistance. A more considered approach might be along the lines of, ‘let’s look at some options . . . which do you prefer?’
Persuading through logic can seem a little like being given a lecture. ‘I know why you aren’t able to do it but all the evidence states . . .’ An alternative might be to reflect choices again, ‘maybe it’s worth talking to someone about why . . .’
Depression is often as confusing for the caregiver as it is for the sufferer. The temptation for the caregiver is to try and understand what’s happening by asking lots of questions. These who, what, why, when, where questions, are hard to process. It can make an already sensitive and confused person feel even more defensive, especially because they’d like the same questions answering. It’s probably simpler to acknowledge the fact that what is being felt is confusing and hard for you to discuss too. ‘Maybe between us we can start to make a little sense of this, but let’s not try to rush.’ This helps validate their feelings and reassures them it takes time to recover.
We can’t force communication and we can’t expect understanding or control of an issue that isn’t fully understood by experts. Roadblocks to communication can occur from the best of motives but often it’s best not to try to understand, control or avoid the issue so much as accept the fact that it’s there. You’ll find that what works in some situations won’t in others. You’ll also learn that the progress of depression means that sometimes the person is more open to discussion that at others.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.