The world was shocked this week by the passing of an incredibly talented and iconic actor/comedian, but also by the way in which his life ended. Robin Williams struggled for years with addiction, and he was very open about it. But he was less open about the monster of depression which plagued him. Looking back, we see a man who whose very fame and fortune was based on, what some would call, a defense mechanism used to mask his pain.
We all wear masks from time to time. As moms, we put them on often! We are the nurturers. The caretakers. The strong ones. Even when we feel like we are barely hanging on by the skin of our teeth, we put on a smile and trudge on through the day, focusing on taking care of everyone else. But we know that our sadness will soon cycle out, and we will feel "normal" again. For others, the masks they wear hide deeper, and longer-lasting feelings of fatigue, isolation and hopelessness.
Those who are afflicted with clinical depression often feel shamed by the disease, and are reluctant to reach out for the help they need when they need it the most. This is why it is SO important to reach out to them in love. Here are some of the best ways to help a loved one struggling with depression:
Encourage professional help and support treatment - Clinical depression is an illness in which the person suffers from a chemical imbalance. Depressed individuals have little control over their symptoms, so enouraging them to get treatment is often the most supportive action a loved one can take. Most depressions get better with a combination of medication and counseling, so it's important to encourage them to stay with treatment until their suptoms begin to lessen (usually up to several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement has occurred. We may also need to help them schedule doctor appointments and monitor medications.
Listen actively and nonjudgementally - People who are battling depression want to talk with someone who will understand without judging them. When we listen and validate their feelings, we lessen the shame they feel about their illness. We may feel helpless because we cannot control the depression, but it's important for us to continue listening. We can ask them to describe what they are going through and what would be most helpful for them. Don't expect them to "snap out of it". Trying to talk depressed individuals out of their depression onlys make matters worse. NEVER take any discussion of suicide lightly. Call their therapist, a hotline, or the police. Be understanding, patient and accepting while offering them hope.
Express care and concern - We can do this by firmly, but gently, inviting them to participate in activities they once enjoyed- taking a walk, going to a movie, having a picnic, etc. Be careful not to put too many demands on them, but continue to show them that you enjoy their company by keeping in contact with them.
Pray with them - Those struggling with depression often feel allienated and detached from God, so praying may be difficult for them. We can call on the Lord to strengthen and comfort them. Our Heavenly Father tell us that "the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise him up..." (James 5:15). Prayer is the greatest means of demonstrating compassion and the love God has for them.
Recognize your own limits and care for yourself - We may become run down or discouraged in our helping efforts if we are the sole caregiver for someone with depression. At times like this, there is a tremendous need for multiple caregivers. It's important for us to know that we cannot do it all. Also, sharing our own upsets with them can be beneficial. They may feel useful when listening to and supporting YOU! This will also keep your relationship with them more balanced.
If you have a friend or loved one who cares for someone struggling with depression, I would love for you to share this post with them I would also love to hear how YOU have helped someone with depression as well! Post your thoughts, ideas, or success stories below.