Depression is a bitch, there’s no getting around it–it’s all-consuming, self-obsessed, exhausting, draining, dangerous, awful, and, well, let’s face it, really fucking depressing.
It’s really depressing for the depressed person, but it’s equally so for their loved ones who have to deal with it and watch their friend or family member as they know them literally disappear before their very eyes into a sunken, dark, and withdrawn version of their former self.
Depressed people can be like emotional vampires–I know, I am one (diagnosed with bipolar, depression, ADHD, anxiety, and committed twice). We can (unintentionally) suck the lifeblood out of our loved ones, causing them worry, angst, frustration, and unbearable fatigue.
The COVID effect
Not surprisingly, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation have skyrocketed over the past year as people attempt to navigate this weird new world we all find ourselves in, often totally isolated from loved ones, or literally trapped with abusive partners, with feelings of helplessness and no control over our everyday life.
According to the CDC during June 2020 41 percent of adults reported struggling with depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse issues, three times higher than figures collated for the third quarter of 2019. And, that’s just the number of those surveyed, but with that percentage, it’s likely you know somebody who has been or still is struggling.
As mentioned previously, it’s a veritable pain in the ass dealing with a seriously depressed person, and it’s not like everybody hasn’t got their own shit to deal with right now (with the exception of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Besos, who are among the ten men who have flourished as everybody else has been floundering, making billions of dollars between them).
As much of a pain in the ass it is dealing with a seriously depressed person, the alternative is oftentimes worse, like terminally worse, think Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Kurt Cobain, amongst the other estimated 800,000 people globally who take their own lives each year.
Not all depressions are the same
There are all different types of depression, including, but not exclusive of:
- Situational depression, like when somebody is grieving the death of a loved one or pet; going through a bad break-up; suffering financial problems; has lost their job, or suffered a terrible medical mishap etc.
- Postpartum depression, when a new mom is struggling to cope and her hormones are running wild.
- Diagnosed mental illnesses like clinical depression, bipolar etc.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder, where the brain struggles during a deep dark winter to deal with the lack of vitamin D that sunshine provides.
- Psychotic depression, which brings with it hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.
- Atypical depression, which can come and go unpredictably, sometimes be fleeting but intense and can temporarily be improved by a positive event in a person’s life.
So, how can you help?
Well, let’s start with how NOT to help. The best option is always to get professional help for your friend or loved one, be it a therapist, doctor, treatment, and medication, or, in the worst-case scenario, hospitalization. You can find a list of resources here.
If you are a reporter, editor, blogger, or social media influencer, I urge you to take just one minute to check out the guidelines for responsible reporting on suicide.
Suicide should never be sensationalized, and should never, ever, be used for clickbait purposes. Never forget that the person you are writing about was somebody’s child, parent, sibling, or loved one.
Sometimes the depressed person may not be receptive to any of the help options listed above, however, so sometimes all you can do is be there for them, in any way you can–to listen and to talk with them.
Words matter….they really, really matter
I’m calling bullshit on the old saying “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you” because words can harm and hurt somebody more than anything, especially when speaking with somebody battling depression.
So, here’s what NOT to do when dealing with somebody who’s depressed or battling suicidal ideology:
- Don’t call them selfish or berate them for how much they’re making everybody worry about them. Trust me, they feel shit about themselves enough already, they don’t need any help in that department. And, the likely outcome is that it will make them withdraw yet more and stop reaching out to people–the biggest and most dangerous sign when interacting with a depressed or suicidal person–as all the time they’re talking or writing or texting they’re still here and still willing/able to engage.
- Don’t compare their situation to others. It’s not a competition. Telling a depressed or suicidal person how others have got it worse than them, or how somebody you know just killed themselves, or talking about your own current struggles, is not the way to go, it’s pouring fuel onto the fire. Call one of your own friends and pass that hot potato onto them.
- Don’t deny their feelings. Don’t tell them to “pull their socks up” or that things aren’t that bad, or to smile and “fake it till you make it”.
- Don’t play down their feelings, sure it’s uncomfortable and horrible to listen to, but when somebody reaches out to you and expresses their deepest darkest feelings, don’t tell them “things aren’t that bad” or to “get over it.”
- Don’t express apathy. Sure, they may have caught you at a bad moment, or you may not feel capable of dealing with their bullshit right there and then, but don’t tell them that. Take a moment and think, REALLY think, this could be the very last conversation you ever have with this person, the last conversation anybody has with this person….let that sink in for a moment.
- Don’t dismiss their feelings. Sure, they may sound whining, self-pitying and self-loathing, it can be irritating and uncomfortable to listen to, but to that person at that time what they’re saying and feeling is real. Treat it as such. Listen.
Kindness matters… kindness really matters
I’m honestly not one to quote Mahatma Gandhi, like never, haha. BUT, he once said, “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer”.
So forget all those meaningless “thoughts and prayers” platitudes that are inevitably bandied about following a seemingly senseless death, which suicide only too often feels like.
Do something to help a person whilst they’re still here, don’t wait till it’s too late then post a teary tribute on social media about how you never saw it coming.
Here’s what TO do when somebody who’s struggling reaches out to you:
- Express empathy and understanding. Tell them you feel their pain, you understand where they’re coming from, how awful it must be to be feeling this way.
- Tell them how much you care and that you love them, that you’re there for them. Let them know how much they mean to you and that you couldn’t imagine your life without them in it, no matter how depressed or sick they may be.
- Ask how you can help. Depression can be totally overwhelming and leave people feeling unable to cope with even the simplest of chores. If you’re financially able to, order them some basic groceries to be delivered, or a bunch of flowers with a loving note, let them know they’re not in it alone, that you’re there for them and that you care. If you’re not able to spare any cash, go around and help them clean up, make some tea and give them a (socially distanced) hug.
- Offer to help them with chores and basic tasks, take some of the overwhelming stress from them so they can concentrate on their mental health and getting better.
- Offer to help them find help. Research doctors and therapists in their area and make an appointment for them to attend. If you’re really concerned that their life may be in danger call the National Suicide Hotline and report your concerns: 1-800-273-8255.
- Be supportive, don’t be judgemental. Tell them that you are there for them and that you’ll help them get through this. A good friend of mine once told me that a severe depressive episode I was suffering was akin to a bad acid trip (I had a misspent youth so the analogy resonated), my feelings and thoughts at that moment weren’t real, it was just shitty brain chemicals clouding my thinking and that It would inevitably pass, I would eventually “come down”.
- Keep in contact. This is probably one of the most essential things when it comes to a loved one with a history of depression or suicidal ideology. If you haven’t heard from them for a while or seen any social media postings–they’ve just disappeared off the radar–then don’t just assume they’re off living their best life somewhere. The most dangerous period for seriously depressed people is when they stop communication and self-isolate as they’re left to the mercy of their inevitably fucked up brain chemicals, and that oftentimes doesn’t end well. Send them a text, and if they don’t reply, hound them until they do. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass, but they’re YOUR pain in the ass, and one day they may not be there to worry about anymore, and then you’ll really regret not sending that dumb emoji or just checking in.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with depression, or thoughts of suicide and you’re looking for a sign not to harm yourself then THIS IS IT.
Finally, if you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) And, remember, it WILL pass, it WILL get better.
Please keep living, we need you.