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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
January 18, 2019

1/8/2019 2:03:00 PM
5 ways to aid those with depression
For the Daily News

As a person who loves others who suffer from depression, please know that I care about mental health/addiction issues, which is why I wanted to share some thoughts today about supporting those who suffer from depression.

Taboo. Perhaps that's the best used word to define our culture's perspective on depression. We would prefer not to talk about it. We'd prefer not to admit to having it. We'd prefer to bottle up any emotion and hide the illness behind a locked door to our homes. However, disease of any sort that goes untreated festers, worsens, and eventually destroys. So, despite the fears and stigma, press on with me.

Hear this. There is no shame in acknowledging that you suffer from depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 1.5 percent of the U.S. population aged 18 and older (or 3.3 million Americans) could say the same. And, to you spouses, sisters, brothers, daughters, aunts, cousins, etc. who have witnessed the effects of depression in your families, know that you are not alone in your care-giving role either. That's where I have found myself often: as a family member, as a co-worker, as a friend to several who struggle. If that is where you are, read on.

Depression steals. It steals joy. It steals ambition. It steals rest. It steals "normalcy." What has been stolen can be restored, however. The Mayo Clinic has published several materials designed to serve as a guide to those who support family members who struggle. A few are listed here along with my personal thoughts.

Listen. Please don't interpret this as a suggestion that you should force a mate, friend, or sibling to talk. Depression can produce spaces where there are no words. Let those spaces exist. It is OK to sit in a room with no words. Your presence is of most importance. When there are words, the individual who suffers from depression can rest assured that you are still there and ready to listen. And, importantly, simply let them talk. There is no need for your solutions, your perceptions, or your opinions. Let the space be about your two ears and their voice.

Provide routine. A person who struggles with depression needs routine. These are anchor points for their day-to-day struggle with even the simple things. To provide support, plan! Create a time to wake, a time to eat, a plan for exercise, and a plan for service to community and to others. (There is so much truth to the concept that when you are down on yourself, your best bet is to serve another. Just plan for it.)

Reinforce the positive. Those with depression see themselves harshly. Reminding them of negatives amplifies their poor self-image. Speak life. Speak encouragement. Remind a spouse, a son, a cousin about his or her gifts and talents, why they have so much value, and how that value has been a blessing to you. Give specifics. Help them to wrap their minds around the good, not the despondent. And, use multiple means to communicate: speak it, write it, show it.

Encourage treatment. Some conversations are just hard. Have them anyway. If you recognize the signs (sleeplessness, fatigue, withdrawal, irritability, loss of interest in life activities), broach the subject with ease: "Maybe it is just me, but you seem to be different lately." Emphasize that depression isn't a sign of weakness or a flaw in a person. Think of it this way: asthma is treatable. No one faults a person who relies upon an inhaler to clear his or her lungs. Treatment and medication for depression are just as vital for the next breath. There is no judgment for caring for one's health and well-being.

Know it is not your fault. Personally, I can tell you that one trap to avoid is the thought that another's depression is your own fault. We think, "I didn't say something I should have," "I neglected to see needs and meet them in my children or in my spouse," or "I was selfish with my time and energy and didn't give what my partner desired." STOP. Depression just is. It didn't come about because of you, and it won't go away with any magic formula you think you might have. Don't accept blame. Instead, simply accept the presence of a treatable disease and get busy helping your family member or friend to treat it!

Amy Kemp is Executive Director-Operations for the Oblong Children's Christian Home. These occasional guest columns are provided by Crawford County LIFE, a new local non-profit that "exists to liberate residents of preconceived ideas and addictive behaviors by educating to improve understanding of themselves and their needs; to facilitate community resources with the goal to empower residents toward better emotional, physical and mental health." For more information, check out Crawford County LIFE's Facebook page.

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