Hi. I’m Chelsea, and I am married to a wonderful, talented, intelligent man who is pretty dumb when it comes to mental illness.
Perhaps you know someone like this. Your bright, helpful person may be a friend, parent, brother, sister, or boss. As well-meaning as he or she might pretend to be, this acquaintance just doesn’t get it. Worse, he or she is often so inept that whenever effort is made, you feel he or she constantly places a clumsy finger right on a fresh bruise and pushes.
But our friends and family don’t have to be idiots. Honestly, we really need love and support for our mental health and we can be tough nuts to crack.
In light of that, I’ve developed a helpful guide. I call it The Depressive Feelings/Better Responses Guide (of Science). Just whip this puppy out whenever you want to whip them upside the head and you’ll both feel better:
- When someone says that he is feeling depressed, a cheery life aphorism like, “Life isn’t all bad,” “Don’t worry; be happy,” or “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” isn’t helpful. At all.
Instead, try, “I understand that you are feeling depressed.” This may easily be followed by, “I’d like to help alleviate some of your stress. Can I clean your whole kitchen for you?,” or “…I happen to know that chocolate is half-off at the store. I’ll be right back with a pound or two.”
- If a depressed person says she feels hopeless; that everything in life is hard: the incorrect response is to point out how easy her life is. Please oh please do not say, “But you don’t have any serious issues like cancer or your arms falling off.”
A better answer? “Let’s address your concerns one at a time. Maybe you could write a list, then we can come up with a solution for each one.”
Or simply listen, without criticism. Some people just really need an ear to dump in.
- How about fatigue? Do you tell someone with depression that he shouldn’t be tired? That he should get to bed earlier? No, silly. He knows he should get to bed earlier; worrying about how he needs to sleep is one of the things that kept him up.
Validate the feelings of the tired person. A passable idea might be to describe a cool idea you read recently -about writing all of one’s concerns on a paper by the side of the bed at night. Maybe you have a really boring book you could lend him.
- Let’s say she is feeling poorly about herself. Her self-esteem is in the toilet of the deep, dark dungeon of the evil underworld troll king’s nephew. Do not advise a person with depressive tendencies that, “You’re a great person,” or how many talents she has and how she has the potential for so much more.
Telling a depressed person of wasted potential will bring on a crying fit. You’re just backing up the mean little voice already in her head (herself).
One of the best things to say is that you like her, that you like a specific thing about her (say, her ability to come up with Britney Spears song lyrics at the drop of a hat). Try to turn the focus on something else, especially if that is on a happy memory.
- When someone with depressive tendencies withdraws from life, reach out. We’re talking about him: not answering texts, appearing less-frequently online, and even telling people, “Goodbye.”
If you can’t go, try to get his family or other friends to physically check in. Even a vocal phone call is better than a text. A visit is better than an e-mail. A long, in-person conversation is better than a social media message.
I have a difficult time with about everything in life due to a negative perspective and very little self-motivation. I need my husband, my few friends, and my family. Theirs are the hands that reach into the cave of my mind and pull me to safety.
With specific directions like this, we can work toward loving the hand that reaches. At the very least, we won’t feel like slapping it away.