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There is a steady and significant decline in the stigma surrounding conversations involving mental health, but it is still not entirely clear what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do when someone is experiencing depression. This topic is important because there is a high chance that someone you know and love may experience depression at some level and at some point.
The focus of this week is specifically on self-love, self-care and looking out for the feelings and needs of others. Be reminded that you can only offer adequate help and support to others if you are practicing self-care. With that said, let us look at some guidelines for helping others to deal with depression from a place of care and love.
Eliminate feelings of discomfort
The first thing to do is to acknowledge any discomfort and awkwardness you may be experiencing, then put them aside. This is not an easy thing to do but it is important that your discomfort is placed secondary to the help that the individual needs to cope.
Know your role
When you are heading into a generally difficult conversation about depression, rather than acting as their therapist, your job is to provide support and connect them with tools and people who are trained to help them.
Be intentional with time and space
When you plan to approach someone who is struggling with depression, it is important that you are mindful of choosing the right time to initiate the conversation. Ensure there is adequate privacy as well as time to address the issue. Avoid starting the conversation in a situation where the individual may feel trapped (forced to respond) or already in the process of heading out the door. Also, do not initiate the conversation following an incident where the person disappointed you. If not, the conversation could be perceived as criticism and he or she may get defensive.
Don’t start with an agenda and prepare to listen
Even if you initiated the conversation, you need to approach it with the intention to listen. Thinking about how to listen to the individual is just as important as thinking about what you should say. People (especially those who have no coaching, counselling, or psychological background) tend to approach this type of conversation with an agenda; a list of things they want to discuss. The most important thing to do is to see where the person is and determine what you will say after listening to find out the route of the conversation. The best way to do this is to allow him or her to drive the conversation to where it needs to go.
Do not approach with pity or judgment
Ensure that you are coming from a place of genuine concern and love and not pity or judgment. Display the intended message from a place of concern rather than the notion that something is ‘wrong’ with the person.
Start with open-ended questions
You can start by stating an observation you had and indirectly asking the person if he or she wants to talk about it. One such open-ended question could be “I’ve not seen you going out much lately. Do you want to share with me why this is so?” If the individual opens up and starts talking, continue adding open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. If the individual is not sure how to answer the open-ended question, you could offer help in finding a trained professional, set up the appointment and accompany him or her to the therapy session.
Don’t disappear; express your ongoing presence, availability, and support
People tend to avoid persons who are experiencing depression because they are afraid of saying the wrong things to them. However, ghosting them is the worst thing you can do. Even if the individual generally doesn’t want to talk or is not ready to talk about a particular situation, let him or her know that you plan to check in. This is usually welcomed, as one of the main symptoms of depression is loneliness. If your initial approach is rejected, do not give up because persons dealing with depression issues are usually like that at the start then they come around and accept your offer later. Physical presence is also an indication of care, even if you are not required to talk.
Don’t make dismissive or unhelpful comments
Some comments may imply that you are minimizing, dismissing, or being insensitive to the person’s feelings. An example of such a comment is: “There are so many things to be happy about, you shouldn’t feel sad.” An important point to note is that an individual can experience depressive feelings regardless of his or her positive attributes like good fortune or financial success. Another phrase you shouldn’t use is “I know how you feel.” That is because you may have an idea of what depression entails, but it is impossible to know exactly what the individual is experiencing. Even if you had/have experience of feeling depressed, you should share your experience to expose your own vulnerability, but not to suggest that you share identical experience with the individual.
Ask the hard questions
Do not avoid asking hard questions such as “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” Many people generally avoid asking this particular question because they believe it may put the idea in the person’s head to commit suicide even if it was not there before. If the individual admits to having suicidal thoughts or if you see particular signs that makes you suspect that he or she is having these thoughts (for example, cutting himself or herself, doing reckless things, and/or being overly kind and distributing possessions), stay with the individual and immediately call for help from a professional or a suicide hotline. Being protective and supportive should come before focusing on the potential resistance of the individual.
The most supportive and caring way to offer yourself to someone who is going through depression is to avoid giving solutions but to instead give a listening ear or be there physically with and for him or her. Continue playing the role of assisting to connect them to adequate help. This should contribute to their improvement.
This article is not exhaustive. For more information, please check your local media for professionals offering counselling services for mental health-related issues.