Journeying through Depression (Part 2)
Depression strikes deeply at a person’s core and robs life of joy and pleasure. Things that used to delight feel empty and pointless. It is exhausting to take care of yourself–let alone others–and go through the motions of a daily routine.
“Oftentimes, depressed people are the best performers,” shares family therapist Eddie Archer. “They know how to put those masks on. They smile, but their eyes aren’t smiling.”
There is a difference between a depressive mood that lasts a few days and a diagnosis for major depressive disorder (clinical depression) which limits a person’s ability to function normally. But many of the symptoms are the same. (See our post: What is Depression?)
Whether you have experienced depression yourself or are walking with someone who is, here are some helpful tips from Eddie on how we can journey through this experience.
- TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. The first important step is not to dismiss the feelings of depression. Eddie says the number one misconception about depression is that we need to make it go away. Our instinct may be to tell ourselves or others to simply activate the power of positive thinking or go outside and take a refreshing walk. Dealing with depression is not that simple and Eddie says major depressive disorder may never disappear from a person’s life. But it can be managed and people can learn to live alongside it and minimize its interruptions.Dolor possimus consequatur quae consequatur omnis
- REPHRASE AND REFLECT. When talking with someone about depression, it is important to show you are listening well. “Listen for feelings, not just facts. Not just content, but intent,” Eddie says. Rephrase what you heard and repeat it back, giving the person a chance to hear and edit their own thoughts. Reflective listening is a powerful tool that not only shows you understand what is being said, but can help the person understand it better themselves and recognize what might need to change.
- CELEBRATE SMALL STEPS. When the darkness of depression descends, people need help finding the pinpricks of light and holding onto them. “What allows us to move forward in these moments is honing in on the victory created by small steps,” Eddie shares. Some steps might be physical actions–cleaning off the dresser even when the whole room is still messy or simply getting out of bed in the morning when it seems impossible. Other steps might be emotional–honestly expressing how you are feeling instead of masking the depression or showing up when all you want to do is hide away. We should celebrate any step and affirm the courage it takes to fight against depression and the feelings of worthlessness it brings.
- NOTICE THE TRIGGERS. Depression can feel like a bully that knocks you down again and again. Learning to identify its causes can be a big step forward. Triggers can center around major life changes and stressors or even at predictable times of year. Recognizing the root, or even anticipating it, can give a person time to put strategies in place and draw people around them for support.
- STAY CONNECTED. Depression isolates and causes people to withdraw. They may not have the physical energy to show up and may feel their negative emotions will be a burden. If you have been “ghosted” by someone during a depressive episode, try not to take it personally and keep reaching out. Stay connected to them and the other people and resources that form their support network. Keep showing up and working to create a healthy environment around them–full of empathy and grace.
- PATRONIZING OR BELITTLING EMOTIONS. “Don’t punish people for how they feel,” Eddie warns. The voice of depression is loud and not always logical, but the important thing is to listen well when supporting someone through this experience. Don’t dismiss their feelings or try to combat negativity with a long list of all the things they should be grateful for. This only adds guilt on top of feelings of worthlessness.
- PROMISING TO KEEP SECRETS. It is critical to be a friend worthy of trust, but be careful not to promise total confidentiality. Depression is often accompanied by suicidal ideation and may even lead to an attempt. This is a real concern that may require an outside response. Be alert to safety concerns that may signal the situation needs to be escalated.
- MAKING THE STRUGGLE ABOUT YOU. When journeying with someone through depression, it is critical not to add your own problems to their burden. Withhold sharing information that makes them feel responsible to care for you. “You can empathize or share your own history,” Eddie says. “But the other side of your sharing should be clean.” For example, you can share what helped you overcome something in the past or what steps you are currently taking. Even if you see your own struggle reflected in their story, avoid the temptation to pivot the conversation to yourself and your own problems.
When More Help is Needed
There is a threshold for when a depressive mood crosses over into a clinically diagnosable disorder. (See post: What is Depression?). For friends walking alongside someone experiencing depression, Eddie suggests a simple criteria to look for: function. When depression is interfering with a person’s ability to function normally in daily life, it is time to seek professional help.
It is important for each person to know their role and to remember that no one in life can be a person’s savior. Even for a clinician or counselor, fixing depression is not their job. Instead, we must all help the person learn to function through the depression and take small steps that keep them from being consumed by it.
“Hope is built by consistent, stable actions over time,” Eddie says. “You may walk around the same mountain, but each time you are climbing a little higher.”
This article adapted from a video interview of Eddie Archer and Charlee Tchividjian. Watch the video here.