Suffering in silence with depression is something a lot of people have experienced and written about. From a friend or caregiver’s perspective it’s useful to know that silence can be an effective therapeutic tool and is certainly nothing to be concerned about. If nothing else, reducing your urge to speak when a person with depression is talking shows you are paying attention. Listening, I mean really actively listening, requires silence on the part of the listener. If you as the listener accept silence it means you aren’t filling your head with what to say the moment they have finished speaking. It means you are really listening and processing what is being said.
Staying quiet is probably a lot harder than it sounds. A part of you wants to sympathize, or suggest something, or share your experience or that of another person. But you have to believe that not reacting in the moment is an essential part of helping a person with depression feel you understand and accept how their situation.
Now be prepared for the fact that silence can be interpreted in a number of ways. If you’re a natural listener the chances are that your behavior won’t change much. If you’re more of a chatterbox then suddenly becoming quite may be viewed with a degree of suspicion. Your depressed friend or loved one may think you’re sulking, or have some negative views about what they are saying. The key thing is to point out that you just want to listen in order to try and understand what they are going through. When the time seems right you’ll share your feelings.
When silence meets silence it can become pretty intense. Depressed people often have nothing to say, so if there’s nothing to listen to there’s little point in staying quiet. It’s true that they may not want to hear the things you have to say but there’s nothing stopping you having conversations on the phone or welcoming friends to the house. As far as you are able it’s business as usual. When he or she does choose to speak, that’s the time to listen. It may be tempting to gush out feelings of relief or pent up emotions but try not to. Putting your own feelings aside isn’t easy but if there was ever a time that called for it that time is now.
Many people feel depression is somehow their responsibility despite the fact it simply isn’t. Silence can help you understand that their depression isn’t something you have to react to, or try to control, or alleviate. All you can really do is offer yourself up as someone who cares and who is prepared to listen. This is something much more powerful than many people may realize.
See More Helpful Articles
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.