So apparently the 10th October was the mental health awareness day and I have absolutely missed it but I do believe when it comes to this topic it is definitely better to talk about it “late than never.”
I have been meaning to write this post sooner or later but all the attention given to mental health problems just reminded me that “sooner” was better.
I would like to note that I am neither a psychologist nor any mental health professional of any kind however I have been through a lot in my life and I have learned a thing or two from my personal challenges or in certain cases … f**k ups. And therefore there are a couple things that I want to say. And you might disagree and we might be both right and wrong at the same time as there is no universal truth and what works for many doesn’t work for everyone.
There is way too much in my head that I have to say regarding this topic but I would like to start with what I see as the most practical thing and that is the question of how to treat a loved one (or anyone for that matter) that is going through a hard time when it comes to mental health.
There are many mental health problems that need to be addressed but one of the most common is clinical depression.
The truth is that if you never suffered from it, you have no idea how hard it is for a person with this condition to cope with the everyday life.
You know how you sometimes tell your friend that you feel “depressed?” And then the other day it just feels better and slowly your mood picks up? So this is not depression. Clinical depression is not a bad mood. Is not a weakness or a lack of will to deal with your problems. It is not being “negative”. It is a disease. It is despair. It is a feeling no one would miss you if you ceased to exist right here, right now, no one might even notice. It is long term. It is a black hole that consumes everything nice from its surroundings. It is a state of emptiness and lack of meaning. The depth of the painful emotion is unimaginable to a healthy person.
How do you approach a person suffering from this disease? I have a few hints for you. Again it is very individual how a person will react so be careful 🙂
1. Make them feel they matter.
When it comes to the worst, depressed people can’t imagine anyone would miss them. They might not even care or in some cases they might wish that people would eventually realise that they are missed. Just let them know that they would leave a hole in this world that no one else could fill in.
2. Don’t ever tell them they could do worse.
“But imagine all the children in Africa, what would they give to have a life like yours.” No empathic person is going to feel better if you tell them that someone is even worse off. That can only make you even more depressed. What is even worse.. a depressed person already feels like a failure and by saying things like these you make them feel that their problems are marginal and that they are so incapable that they can’t even deal with the simplest of things. Just don’t ever say anything like this.
3. Don’t try to cheer them up.
Simply because it’s not going to work. They are not sad. They are ill. It is the same like if you tried to make a person suffering from flu laugh and were convinced that it will cure the fever they have (sure, laughter is the best medicine but…). Just be there for them. Keep them company and be patient if they are not fun. It might not be apparent but that is a thing they’ll appreciate the most.
4. Don’t force them to join activities.
Depression is extremely exhausting, a healthy person can hardly imagine what a struggle it is to even get up from bed. It’s like your worst Monday morning, only multiplied by a thousand. And when you eventually get up, you just want to go lay down again.
It only seems logical that producing some endorphins by doing sports would help but the chance is they are not ready. Ask them to join but do not force them or make them feel bad if they refuse. Make sure they know you understand.
5. Offer practical help
For depressed people it is also very hard to attend to banal everyday chores. If you are capable and have the time, do their grocery shopping, water their flowers, walk their dog, take out their trash… whatever they need and you can do.
6. Make sure they eat
A loss of appetite comes hand in hand with depression. Again no force should be used. Make or buy their favourite childhood meal, maybe something aromatic, warming and comforting.
Don’t get mad if they don’t eat. Like you would do with a timid animal… place it in their reach, they’ll have some eventually. And if not, try again the next day.
7. Don’t give them drugs
Yes, alcohol is also a drug. Yes, wine is alcohol. Your friend is not a teenager suffering after their first break up. They have a serious condition that is potentially life threatening (see number 10!) and can only get worse with the use of any other substances than those prescribed by a responsible psychiatrist.
8. Try to convince them to seek out professional help
Many people (even more so men 🙂 ) might be hesitating to visit a therapist because they might feel as a failure, someone who can’t cope by themselves or are afraid that would mean officially admitting that they are crazy. If you know of someone they respect (maybe even you) who made a positive experience with psychotherapy, tell them their story (or tell them an anonymous one with a happy ending not to breach anyone’s privacy).
9. Help them get help
This point is connected to the previous one. As I have mentioned before it is very hard for depressed people to carry out even the simplest tasks. Therefore one of the possible reasons they are not undergoing therapy yet is that they are incapable of arranging it for themselves, they simply lack the needed energy.
Find some references for them. Accompany them to the first appointment if they say the’d like that.
At last high quality care can be pretty financially exhausting. If you are able and willing to do so, you may offer financial help too.
10. And most importantly…
Throughout this article I have stressed on multiple occasions that no force should be used. This last one is an exception. When someone starts talking about suicide, their desire to die or you notice they’re taking suspicious interest in this topic…
MAKE THEM GO TO A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL!
Try to talk them into it gently. Try to trick them. If none of this works try to use any possible means to convince them and do not leave them alone.
They might be annoying, angry or rude but it’s important to remember that this is a symptom of sickness and not an unattractive character trait. Patience is necessary.
You can literally save someone’s life.
Although a depressed person can be going through hell and feel that any more of that is simply unbearable and there’s no reason to carry on, with the right support and proper care they will have a thick chance of ending up living a fulfilling life in the end. Maybe with even more respect than ever before.
This life might not make sense to us all the time but it is still worth saving.
I wish you many happy days and no sad endings.