It’s okay to not be okay.
I’m an all around happy person. Jubilant, I’m told. I have the innate ability to always see the sunny side of things, even when the world is falling to pieces around me. I laugh more often than is necessary, I will go to any length to get someone to crack a smile, and I’m not easily offended, shocked, or fazed.
Someone once said to me that I frolic through life. They were right, and I’m okay with that. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had my fair share of hard knocks, but for some reason I’m always able to take the rough with the smooth. I’m never down for long.
However, I’m fully aware the majority of the world doesn’t function like this. Most people are dealing with terrible insecurity, financial stress, health problems, family dramas, and unlike me, they have trouble pulling themselves out of the inevitable pit that manifests. People find themselves descending into the depths of despair all too easily. The result, of course, is the big black dog of depression.
I have a good friend who suffers very badly from this soul-destroying condition. She’s smart, pretty, and has the kindest soul, but she is in the frighteningly firm grip of something entirely beyond her control. At the moment, no amount of laughter, jokes, or positive affirmation can pull her out of it. As someone who loves to make people laugh, I find this confusing and terrifying in equal parts. The guilt I feel at being unable to truly understand what she’s going through is profound.
There are millions of people around the world in the same situation. Whether it’s a friend, family member, spouse, partner, or anyone else; many people have dealt with someone else’s depression before. And I’m telling you, it’s pretty damn tricky.
Clinical psychologist Nicole Cook states the most important thing you can do if someone you care about has depression is to ask them about it.
“It’s important to reach out to your friend if you suspect that they may be going through a difficult time. A lot of the time, people will be worried about saying the right thing, or don’t want to pry into the other person’s life. Sometimes they want to wait until [the depression sufferer] brings up the conversation; however, they are often waiting for someone to ask.”
It’s often instinctual when a friend is constantly blue, to tell them in no uncertain terms they have to brighten up. Not everything is as bad as it seems. There are starving children in Africa. I know, I’ve done it. And more often than not, for somebody who’s simply having a bad day, this tactic works.
However, depression goes far beyond a bad day, or a bad week.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Lissa Johnson, of Lissa Johnson and Associates, telling a depression sufferer to simply ‘snap out of it’ isn’t practical.
“However tempting it might be, telling someone who is depressed to ‘be strong’ or ‘snap out of it’ is not helpful. In fact, it is likely to make things worse. If your depressed friend could snap out of it, they would. Moreover, they probably already tell themselves this very thing, possibly every day, in harsh, self-punitive tones,” Johnson explains.
Characterized by a general loss of interest and withdrawal from activities that a person once enjoyed, depression typically involves intensely low feelings that can last for weeks, months or even years, often for no apparent reason, and can cause symptoms like sleep disturbances, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating.
It can also dramatically negatively impact on a person’s sense of self-esteem, often causing self-loathing and even suicidal thoughts. And it’s not uncommon. An estimated 350 million people around the world suffer from depression. It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide, contributing significantly to the overall global burden of disease and it affects women more than it does men, so it’s very likely you’ve come into contact with a friend who’s battling it without even knowing it, and as such, it’s extremely important to know how to handle it.
“Where you can, be assertive in helping your depressed friend to accept support. For example, you can non-judgmentally take the initiative in arranging an outing together – something small and manageable such as a gentle walk – with an attitude of seeking out and appreciating their company,” Johnson advises, stressing the importance of helping your friend get professional help.
“You should also express your care and concern and offer to help them find to professional treatment and support.”
Try offering to accompany your friend to their GP for a mental health check-up if they’re nervous about going it alone, or recommend some free services in your local area.
Battling depressing is incredibly challenging for both sufferers and their supporters. However, it is crucial to resist the temptation of being impatient or dismissive, and remember your friend isn’t simply in a bad mood; they are battling a serious mental illness and as such require enduring encouragement and acceptance. See yourself as undertaking an exercise in patience, and use it as opportunity to express the love you have within you.
If we throw away the stigma surrounding depression, and apply the principles of validation and acceptance, we can make immeasurable inroads in the healing process and help our loved ones get on the path to recovery.
Comment: Have you ever supported a friend through depression or mental illness?