Depression doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It causes a ripple effect that touches everyone surrounding the person. Family members and friends often feel helpless, not knowing how to reach out or what to do to help their suffering loved one.
It would be nice if the depressed person could specifically vocalize their needs, so that friends and families knew exactly what to say and do. However, the paradox of depression can be immobility and lack of motivation. Vegetative symptoms are disturbances of a person’s functions necessary to maintain life. These disturbances are most commonly seen in mood disorders, and are part of the diagnostic criteria for depression.
Vegetative symptoms in a patient with typical depression include:
Weight loss and anorexia (loss of appetite) or overeating
Insomnia or hypersomnia.
Fatigue and low energy
Inattention and memory problems
1. Educate Yourself About Depression and Other Mood Disorders.
You may not be able to cure your loved one. But you can better understand their condition by educating yourself about depression or mood disorder. Reading up on your loved one’s illness will help you feel more in control of the situation and give you more patience to tolerate the confusing or frustrating symptoms.
2. Ask Open-ended Questions
Do not go in with the attitude that you know better, and you know what’s going to work to help them feel better. Listen to their personal experience.
3. Help Them Identify and Cope With Sources of Life Stress
It’s no secret that stress is a significant contributor to depression. Chronic levels of stress pour cortisol into your bloodstream and cause inflammation in your nervous system and every other biological system. In a study in Scientific Reports, a neuroscience journal, stress was shown to reduce the brain’s innate ability to keep itself healthy. The hippocampus, which regulates mood, shrinks, negatively impacting our short-term memory function and learning abilities.
4. Remind Them That They’re Incredibly Strong
When you’re depressed, you don’t believe that you’re worthy of love. I call this the secret symptom of depression, the feeling that you are unimportant and don’t matter in the universe. That’s what makes relationships and communication so difficult. One way of helping is by reminding them of their strengths. Use concrete examples. Cite times in their lives they exemplified courage, stamina, compassion, integrity, and perseverance. One colleague of mine will say, remember your name, who are you?￼
In a series of studies that I conducted at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC, I found that people with depression literally do not remember positive aspects of a singular activity. For example, when shown movies that had a range of affect from joyful to traumatic, the more painful and traumatic memories in the films were later most remembered on memory tasks given to individuals identified as depressed.
5. Make Them Smile, Because Laughter Helps.
Humor can help us heal from a number of illnesses, including depression. In Darkness Visible, the writer William Styron described his journey through severe depression. Humor was one of the things that helped him survive. Watch a favorite show or listen to a shared podcast with your depressed loved one. You don’t have to fake laughter, let it emerge on its own.
6. Let Them Know They Won’t Always Feel This Way.
This is a powerful message. When combined with helping them remember past struggles that they mastered, it shows that there is hope.
7. If You Do Only One Thing, Let It Be Listening
Listen. Suspend all judgments, save all interjections … don’t be a know it all. Do nothing more than make excellent eye contact, reflect on what you are hearing, and open your ears. It’s the most powerful wisdom.