How to… Help Someone Who Is Depressed

So, this post might be a little, well, depressing. But, with the Christmas holiday approaching, along with it comes the realization that the holidays seem to somehow amplify depression. How can this be? The holidays are supposed to be cheerful, right? While research does not support the common misconception that depression and suicide rates increase this time of year, it does seem to indicate that depression may just seem worse simply because of the focus on a more cheerful atmosphere. This is kind of like white standing out more on black because of the contrast.

An article posted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center titled True or False: Depression and Suicide Rates Rise During the Holiday Season states that “The reason behind the claim that depression rates and suicides rise during the holidays is that holiday cheer amplifies loneliness and hopelessness in people who have lost loved ones, or who have high expectations of renewed happiness during the holiday season, only to be disappointed.” In other words, amidst all the holiday cheer, depression is just more noticeable.

If you suffer from depression, all you know is that you simply feel sadder around the holidays, and it really doesn’t matter what the statistics say. Depression touches everyone. Most people either know someone who is or was depressed, or we ourselves are depressed. This comes as no surprise considering the fact that about 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a depressive disorder in a given year. (That’s about 18.8 million people.)

Depression has been a lifelong battle of mine, and those closest to me have struggled with what to do during my depressed times. For the past five years, depression has no longer held a choking grip on me; it is still a struggle at times, but I no longer feel as though I’m barely holding my head above water.

There are five gifts that others gave me or that I wish they would have given me when I was struggling with depression. At best, these gifts may give a depressed person a much-needed lift out of the deep end, and at worst, they most likely won’t do any harm and at least will give a depressed person’s loved ones something to “do” when nothing else seems to be helping.

  1. Acknowledge feelings. This does not mean to necessarily agree with what a person is saying, but it does mean to simply acknowledging that the feelings are real. To say that someone who is depressed should not feel a certain way and then to proceed to present a case as to why that is true only makes them feel worse.
  2. Don’t give advice. The worse advice I received was anything close to “Just be positive” or “Just cheer up.” My response was always the same: “Don’t you think I would if I could?!” When a person is seriously depressed, no amount of advice is going to bring them out. Simply acknowledge their feelings and listen.
  3. Value them and their ideas. To know that my ideas and thoughts have value gives me amazing encouragement. As with acknowledging feelings, this doesn’t mean you have to agree with what the person is saying. It does mean that you acknowledge that I am an intelligent being capable of intelligent thought and that perhaps there is some validity in what I’m feeling even if it doesn’t make any sense to you.
  4. Listen. Sometimes, a depressed person just wants to vent. Because I am also an introvert, the inner dialogue when I am depressed is usually quite overwhelming. Being able to vent to someone who is listening without judgment sort of takes off some of heaviness that depression creates in a person’s mind.
  5. Confirm loyalty. The person closest to me for most of my life simply stated, “I will not leave you no matter what,” and he has restated this more than once. Knowing that no matter how low I got, I would not be alone made all the difference in the world to me. At times, I didn’t believe it, and I was sure that I could convince him it was a bad idea. But he held true to his word, and I believe that is one of the main reasons that depression no longer controls my life.

There are so many reasons for depression. One friend of mine gets depressed around Christmas every year because that is when her dad died several years ago. Another is just trying to make sense of being betrayed by friends and as a result is struggling to enjoy the season. For me, depression was partly a medical problem, partly the result of a tendency toward pessimism and partly a seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Whatever the reason, knowing that you are not alone, that someone will listen and not dismiss your feelings and that someone at least says they value you even if you aren’t sure it’s true, can make a big the difference in helping someone struggle through depression. These small gifts can truly help the holidays and really any time of year seem a little less depressing and maybe even a little more cheerful.

Sunday Reflections – Struggling for Thankfulness

Since yesterday was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the resounding message in churches around the country was most likely about giving thanks. My pastor focused on “Thanksgiving Leftovers” and how to move from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving.” He encouraged the congregation to be insightful about a focus on the present, to consider our motives, and to be sure to consider every area about which we can be thankful in addition to the obvious ones like family and shelter.

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” a deliberate and intentional approach must be taken to living out thankfulness in our lives. Gratitude is an action by which we show the thankfulness that exists in our hearts. While Thanksgiving is a holiday, “Thanksliving” is a way to keep the focus and meaning behind the holiday alive, living and growing year round. But what if being thankful is not a natural tendency? What if the thankfulness I feel in my heart seems to disappear when I am around others? And what if my motives seem to stay selfish even after attempts to change them?

Moving from simply knowing what I should do to wanting to do them and then actually following through with those things out of a thankful heart is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But there are some steps that I can take to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely change my outlook and motives.

  1. Consider who I’m influencing. For me, knowing that others are watching and emulating me is huge motivation to change. From my kids to others who for some reason look toward me as an example, just knowing they are watching me makes me want to become a more outwardly thankful person. While I may not always set the best example, I usually am able to pick myself up after setting a bad one and starting again. But just having those eyes watching me makes me more mindful of my attitude and choices.
  2. Be intentional and deliberate. Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it will happen. I must deliberately choose to pursue being more positive while at the same time intentionally working to push away the negative. This can mean getting around positive people and reading positive books and it can mean eliminating negative television shows and even hanging out less with negative people. Changing my attitude will also take a lot of prayer not simply for a supernatural change (although that can happen) but for the wisdom and patience to be able to take the necessary steps toward positive change.
  3. Acknowledge reality. As someone who is naturally pessimistic, I need to acknowledge that my initial thoughts, at least for a while, will be negative. I also need to acknowledge that at least for a while, I will have to realize that my desires and motives may not always line up with what I know I should do. Preparing for this reality ahead of time can help make following through with being more thankful a bit easier.
  4. Embrace forgiveness. Most of the people around me from my kids and spouse to my church family are very forgiving. I probably take that for granted at times, and I definitely find comfort in knowing that I have a fresh start with them when I need one. I wish I didn’t need one so often. But the area of forgiveness with which I struggle is forgiving myself. Being naturally negative, I am great at seeing the faults within myself. And unlike with others, I can’t get away from those faults. But receiving forgiveness from others as well as knowing that God’s grace is unmerited as well as undeserved, I find motivation to continually forgive myself even if it takes me a bit longer than it should. Forgiving myself allows me to be thankful for who I am and to continue the process of moving toward perfection through Christ.
  5. Seek & follow examples. External expression is very difficult for me, partially because I’m an introvert and partially because I’m shy. I’ve tried to simply become an extrovert, but that’s not who I am and therefore was not something I could sustain long term. But I can learn some valuable lessons from my extroverted friends even if I can’t become one of them. Extroverts tend to be very good socially, and I can learn a lot by watching them. I can pick and choose things to try (and there’s generally a lot from which to choose) such as words and phrases to use as well as ways to express feelings. In a more literal way, I can buddy up with an extrovert and sort of ride her coattails in social situations. This takes the pressure off an introvert as well as gives the impression of being at least somewhat socially outgoing. My extroverted friends certainly have a lot to teach me about self-expression.

Being truly thankful and expressing that thankfulness through actions of gratitude may not come naturally to me, but I am motivated to improve in this area because I know that God’s will is for me to be thankful and to show my gratitude. Ephesians 5:18-20 says to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and Colossians 3:17 says that in “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Even though I may seem to be working against my personality at times, I know that I am not in this struggle alone. Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” God has created in me the desire to not only be more thankful but also to be a better example of gratitude.

Question: How does your personality or temperament limit as well as enable you to express gratitude? What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to better have a life of “Thanksliving”?

Struggle to Victory Together

As an introvert, I tend to keep most of my struggles to myself and attempt to work through them on my own. This is not what Christ intended when he said “bear one another’s burdens.” In an attempt to share more of my life, two sites were created with the hopes of inviting others to share in my passion for books and in my struggle to age gracefully. Our Life in Books is a blog site to share reading, and both of my boys are participating in this site. The 40 by 40 site is a goal-setting site with the purpose of living my life pursuing the passions and using the gifts that God gave me. Please visit these sites and leave a comment.

Struggle to Victory is just starting out, so patience will be needed by all while I learn to manage a blog. Thank you for supporting where I feel God has called me to focus.