We’ve farted out articles on anxiety and depression several times on this site, but so far they’ve been about helping you manage the contents of your own butt. But what about dealing with someone else’s depression, especially someone with whom you hope to forever poop back and forth? The feeling of helplessness in the face of a suffering loved one is nearly intolerable, which can result in well-intended emotional flailing, hoping desperately to latch onto their hand as they fall with the crumbling cliff on which they stand.
Unfortunately, such flailings can simply slap their face as they descend away from you if certain considerations are not taken to insure what’s being done is as much in their best interest as it seems. There are several steps you can take to be sure you don’t just give them the finger when they hit the ground.
First, think about what it is you actually *want* to do, or what you think will be the thing that helps them. Then consider how effective that approach might be to someone with a medical condition. Will forcing them to talk about it be the thing that helps cure them? Going out to a bar or sitting around talking at their house? Unlikely. A big part of the problem is still the consistent stigma that mental illnesses don’t have the severity of physical ones because they aren’t visible, and can’t be properly comprehended or understood by people who don’t suffer from them.
So now, knowing that it won’t help them to do that, what is this lingering desire to insist that it might? That brings us to our second point; be careful that things you want to do for them aren’t actually things that will make *you* feel better in disguise. Everybody likes feeling important and needed in the lives of people that are important to them, and rarely is that feeling more effectively legitimized than when you successfully help someone. Seeking that fulfillment can unintentionally lead to prying for information, or pushing the person to do something they don’t want to do, which is is exactly as fun as it sounds.
Being helpful to someone with depression is most effective when approached with reactivity, rather than proactivity. The right approach is far more akin to being a waiter at a restaurant than dangling various toys in front of a baby to get them to stop crying. So thirdly, instead of trying to find things you think will make them feel better, be sympathetic, be available, and be informed. If they want to talk, listen, and don’t try to offer solutions or attempt to fix anything. Keep the pressure low. Let them know you can give them rides places if they need, you are always available to hear what they have to say; and just pay attention to them. Keep an eye out for suicidal behavior, or abnormal isolation. (These things can be super tricky and may or may not present themselves clearly depending on the person.) You can even find and read books on the subject. Either from a scientific perspective or a therapeutic one, and offer up any you think they might enjoy or benefit from.
None of these things are guaranteed to work, which is one of the many reasons why depression is the hellbeast that it is. But the more thoroughly and completely someone recognizes you as a person they can rely on for their own self-determined brand of comfort, the easier it will be for them to possibly reach out to you when everything is at its most difficult.