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Depression: How To Sit With Someone Who’s Suffering

on March 11, 2019 - 9:57am
By ELIZABETH GRANT, LPCC
Sage Solutions Counseling
Los Alamos

It is socially acceptable to be physically ill; it happens to everyone and there’s no real reason to hide your sniffles from others.

Depression on the other hand holds a stigma that can cause people to hide their suffering. This hiding can energize pain and exacerbate depressive symptoms.

If you’re close to someone who’s suffering with depression, there are several ways that you can help transform their depression into an illness of connection rather than an illness of isolation.

First of all, one must understand depression in order to connect to the experience. Here’s a snapshot: Depression has a dark voice that can erode one’s self-esteem. It drains the sufferer of energy, creates deep feelings of being overwhelmed and wipes away the ability to focus or take on simple tasks. Under the influence of depression, life has a gray lackluster quality, even towards things that previously brought delight.

Depression is an equal opportunity employer; no matter how visibly good life seems to be, it can still be plagued with internal darkness. Also, one’s suffering is worsened by the judgement that they have around their suffering. In therapy, this is called “feeling bad about feeling bad.”

Secondly, in order to support the depressed person, one must create an environment of non-judgement. To disarm any judgement that you may hold, check in with yourself and acknowledge any discomfort that you may be experiencing in the face of your loved one’s struggle. One way that this discomfort may present itself is through a cadre of well-intended suggestions such as “just go to the gym”, “count your blessings,” “take a shower every morning,” or “journal.”

Such suggestions often have value, but perhaps if you are making them to resolve your own angst, you may be communicating that you either can’t bear to be with the person in their depressive state or that you feel frustrated by their inability to get better.

Lastly, set an intention that’s more about establishing connection than remedying the problem. When you come from healthy intentions like love, kindness, or curiosity, a person is more likely to respond in kind as opposed to reacting defensively. In non-violent communication, the way to approach the other person regarding a delicate conversation is to bring your heart into the dialogue. Tap into your sense of empathy before you approach your loved one.

As for what words to use, here are examples to set the tone for the overall sentiment:

  • I see that you are struggling and I am wondering if I can just sit with you? When you’re ready to talk, I am right here.
  • I know things seem horrible right now but I believe that this too shall pass. I will hold the flashlight of hope for you until you find the light within you.
  • I respect you for addressing this and I support you in your healing process.
  • I see that you are suffering and I am here for you. I can turn off the television anytime or turn away from my phone should you need to take a walk or share a cup of tea.
  • I may not have the perfect words or understanding around your situation but I want you to know that I am on your team. Please tell me what you need?

Many times the perfect words escape us but just reaching out to offer our presence can be the greatest gift of all.

In summation, you don’t have to be a therapist to offer up kindness and you don’t have to take over the job of a therapist when you are sitting with someone who is in deep pain. Check to see if they are seeking care and if not, ask if you can help them find care.

Links for additional information:

  • Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com. Listing of therapists with profiles and contact information. Also, articles on mental health issues;
  • Los Alamos Provider Directory: lapho.com. Click on Behavioral Health;
  • Depression and Bipolar Support(DBSA): dbsalliance.org. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is the leading peer-directed national organization focusing on the two most prevalent mental health conditions, depression and bipolar disorder;
  • Families for Depression Awareness: familyaware.org. Families for Depression Awareness helps families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder; and
  • NAMI: nami.org. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Hotlines: 

  • Crisis Response Hotline of New Mexico: 1.505.820.6333.
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.8255.

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