How Others Can Help
IT IS vital for others to show empathy to the depressed—to put themselves in the other person’s place. What this means was demonstrated in the following case. The depressed father, after lashing out at his wife, sobbed: “I don’t mean to be this way!” He was deeply moved by his wife’s simple, understanding reply: “I know you don’t, honey.”
Dr. Ari Kiev, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry, warned: “When families see the depression as a result of willfulness, an unwillingness to fight it off, then that tends to increase the patient’s frustration. . . . And one would see suicidal acts.” However, he adds: “People could ride out the depression better if they and their families accepted it as an illness that runs a self-limited course and eventually will pass.” Such advice is good for both family and friends.
Some who suffered major depression were asked what comments from others helped the most. They said: “I understand,” “We love you,” “I know you’ll soon be your old self again,” “You look a lot better today” and “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but we’re behind you.” One mother wrote: “Just to hear my children say, ‘We need you,’ was like a shot in the arm.” But she added: “Undue criticism to a person already depressed is like a bullet of death.” How practical the Bible’s inspired counsel! It urges: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.”—1 Thess. 5:14.
What did others say that hurt? Some of the replies were: “I’m sorry for you,” “She just wants attention” and “Don’t pity yourself; there are other people sicker than you are who don’t cry and complain.” Just imagine how these remarks made these persons feel! “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18) It is not that persons intended to hurt or ‘stab’ the depressives, but often they simply did not think before they spoke.
“The depressed person is already angry with himself, so don’t add to his guilt by constantly correcting what he does,” advises a psychologist who has worked with mentally disturbed individuals for over 20 years. “Rather than tell him, ‘Why don’t you just shake it off,’ perhaps you could say, ‘It seems to be a real problem for you, and I don’t fully understand it, but I would like to understand what you’re feeling. I would like to help.’ Be sincerely interested. A person can tell if you are not.”
Look for opportunities to give genuine praise. Be specific: “Look what a good job you did rearing your children,” “You have a real knack for making others comfortable,” and so forth. Help the person to restore his self-esteem. But above all else . . .
Be a Good Listener
Usually, a depressed person has much to say but often feels unworthy to express it. He may feel that nobody really is interested in hearing about his problems or feelings. Said one 27-year-old woman who suffered for several years with bouts of depression: “I needed someone to listen, not someone to lecture me and make me feel that I was being this way on purpose. My problems were real!”
This young woman, who wanted to die, added: “I had a couple of friends that I could really pour my heart out to. Even though I couldn’t fully understand my own feelings, this conversation really helped.” So let the depressed person “unload” his feelings. There is no need to judge everything he says. He may make some statements that seem extreme. Often, he really does not mean what he says. However, if you are a good listener and gain the person’s confidence, it may be that by gentle reasoning, step by step, you can correct his thinking.—Matt. 7:1.
“Support the Weak”
“Friends help; others pity” is an old saying. Certainly genuine friends and family members whose circumstances allow will take steps to support those who are close to them and are depressed. Within the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are spiritually qualified men who often have been of much help to depressed persons. Depressives are invited to seek their empathetic, loving aid. One sufferer confessed: “I was not too proud to call for help.”—Jas. 5:14, 15.
Depending on circumstances, there are many things that persons can do. If the sufferer cannot sleep, stay up with him. If he will not eat, do not pressure him, but tempt him with small amounts of nutritious food, deliciously prepared. If he will not exercise, then take him out for a walk, or engage with him in some form of vigorous physical activity. Helping the sufferer in such ways may not be easy.
One bighearted woman has assisted several severe depressives. One of these whom she invited to live with her until she improved was having a hard time. Very warmly, Doreen said to this young woman: “Put your coat, hat and boots on.” But she responded: “I don’t want to go for a walk.” “I told her kindly, but firmly, ‘Yes, you’re going. Put them on,”’ explained Doreen. “She did. We walked for four miles. When we returned she was tired, but she felt better. Nobody believes how helpful strenuous exercise is until you make them do it. Then they see it.”
Support may also mean helping the seriously depressed person to find proper professional help. With major depression, one may need help from persons especially trained in dealing with the sickness. There is a variety of treatment currently available.
Other helpful acts reported by depressives were: “Don’t invite so many visitors over; prevent others from making unnecessary noise—like loud music.” “Short visits of honest concern from others are nice.” “My family watched over me, calling me regularly on the phone, taking me out, even helping me to get dressed at times.”
Often it is simply being close at hand and showing love. One previously depressed woman related what got her through nine months of being “trapped in a terrible nightmare.” At one point she sobbed to her husband: “I can’t stand it anymore! I’m not getting better. I’m going down the drain!” He tenderly replied: “If you go down the drain, I’m going right down there with you!” Reflecting on this, the woman said: “Simply put—he was always there for me.”
Yes, genuine support, coupled with consoling words, and a listening ear are the finest assistance others can give to “depressed souls.”