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.