Defeating Depression—How Others Can Help
IT WAS the third time within just a few days that Ann had phoned long distance for no apparent reason. Her mother, Kay, noticed that her voice seemed lifeless. “It was like a voice of depression,” explained Kay. “Though she didn’t complain, the tone of her voice was saying out loud, ‘I need help!’” Kay’s heart raced as she sensed trouble.
“I told my daughter that I would be there the next day!” recalls Kay. “Ann started crying, muttered ‘OK,’ and then hung up.” Upon arriving, the mother was shocked to learn that Ann had revealed to her friends that she felt totally hopeless and worthless. She had even seriously talked about suicide! Nevertheless, the support Kay gave during her five-day visit helped her daughter recover. It was the turning point. “This taught me a lesson about listening,” reflected the mother. “She could have killed herself, and how awful we would have felt if we had not helped in her time of need.”
Help from others can often mean the difference between life and death to a severely depressed person. Would you have been as alert as Kay? Since each year a hundred million persons worldwide develop a severe depression, the chances are that someone who is your friend or relative may be affected. But helping someone who is severely depressed can be exasperating.
Dr. Leonard Cammer in his book Up From Depression tells of one mother who was at her wit’s end with a depressed son. As she and her son conferred with the doctor, she bemoaned: “He just moves away from us and acts as if we’re not there. He knows we love him. Why does he have to hurt us this way? You don’t know what I’ve been going through, Doctor.” Dr. Cammer remarks: “If only she knew the suffering he has been going through! . . . The depressed person senses that he is a burden to the family. But he is a burden to himself too, because he is helpless to rectify his condition and is ashamed and humiliated by it. His only recourse then is to drift farther away.” The mother’s lack of sensitivity made the situation worse. To help, therefore, the first essential is . . .
Empathy, or “fellow feeling,” is an effort to identify emotionally with another. (1 Peter 3:8) Realize that the depressed person really hurts. His distress is real and not feigned. “Weep with people who weep,” advised the apostle Paul. (Romans 12:15) In other words, try to understand the pain the depressed one feels.
Though you cannot know exactly what he feels, you can show a genuine interest in wanting to know. Encourage that one to talk, and when he vents his feelings, try to see things through his eyes, putting yourself in his place. Avoid judgmental statements such as, ‘You shouldn’t feel like that’ or, ‘That’s the wrong attitude.’ The depressed person’s emotions are especially fragile, and such critical comments only make him feel worse about himself. Usually his self-esteem has evaporated.
To restore his self-esteem, you must appeal to the person’s reason. Ever so gently, help him see that his low assessment of himself is incorrect. But simply giving him a stirring speech, telling him that he is ‘a great person,’ is not the answer. “He that is removing a garment on a cold day is as vinegar upon alkali and as a singer with songs upon a gloomy heart,” observes Proverbs 25:20. Such shallow efforts leave a depressed one emotionally cold and irritated, since they rarely address the reasons why that one feels worthless.
For instance, a depressed person may say: ‘I feel that I’m just no good and that I’ll never be worth anything.’ You could in a nonchallenging manner ask: ‘Can you tell me why you feel that way?’ As he begins to explain, listen carefully. Such close attention assures him that what he is saying is worth while. As he opens up, you will be able to ask further questions to help him identify and correct the reasonings that can cause depression.*
Use simple, direct questions, not in a scolding way, but in an effort to get the person to reason. (See box, page 13.) If you see that the person is doing things that are contributing to his problem, then in a nonaccusing way, you could kindly ask: ‘Is what you’re doing up to this point helping you? Do you need to do something different?’ Getting him to offer suggestions may restore some of his self-confidence.
A depressed person tends to ignore all his good qualities; so focus his attention on his personal assets and capabilities. She may have a knack with plants or be a good cook. He may have reared happy, stable children. Look for areas where the depressed one has succeeded and draw these to his attention. You may even have him write down some of these to review later. It helps also when that one can use his talent to help you.
For instance, Maria, who was an excellent seamstress, became severely depressed. One of her friends asked: “Would you like to help me pick out some fabric and a pattern? I want to make a suit.” Maria offered to make it for her. “Oh, would you?” responded her friend. Later, she warmly thanked Maria for the suit and by mail told her of all the fine compliments she had received on it. “This increased my confidence and brightened my days,” said Maria. “I later found out that she had gone through a depression and knew this task would be a big help. It was. She did more for me than I did for her.”
So help depressed ones to develop a few specific short-term goals that are within their ability and circumstances. These may be simple household duties, a handicraft project, or even wholesome words. As one severely depressed woman said: “I would try each day to say something upbuilding to either my family or a friend.” Reaching these small goals builds self-esteem.
When It’s Your Spouse
The first assumption of many whose mates become severely depressed is that they are somehow responsible for the other’s low mood. This produces guilt that, in turn, creates friction. Yet, depression is not necessarily a sign that one has had a bad marriage.
After studying the lives of 40 depressed women, Myrna Weissman and Eugene Paykel in their book The Depressed Woman concluded: “Not all the depressed women had poor marriages prior to their illnesses. We found a number of marriages where free and easy communications, mutual sensitivity to each other’s needs, . . . had existed prior to the depression. The illness put considerable strain on the relationship.”—Italics ours.
Sometimes, however, though not always causing the depression, a strained or detached relationship with a mate can create an environment that makes depression much more likely. Some factors that induce depression are listed in the box on page 15. One husband whose depressed wife became suicidal admitted: “I was not serious about watching over her emotional and spiritual needs. To me she was a roommate rather than a wife. I was too busy helping others to give the reassurance and warmth she wanted and needed. I had to work at communication as well as sharing myself and my life with her.” Are there areas that you might see in your family that need improvement? But what else will help a spouse?
□ Patience, Patience, Patience! Because a depressed person is in emotional pain, he or she may lash out at a mate. Victoria, who suffered major depression, confessed: “I hated myself and felt miserable. I’m sure that my husband and kids would have liked to lock me in the closet and throw away the key. Yet, I heard hundreds of times, ‘We love you; we know you don’t mean it’ or, ‘You’re just tired.’” Yes, realize that the person will say many things that he doesn’t mean. Even Job, a man of faith, admitted that because of his vexation “my own words have been wild talk.” (Job 6:3) Having the insight to know that you are not the target will enable you to respond with mild, kindly replies that will usually defuse the situation. (Proverbs 15:1; 19:11) Don’t expect a spouse to get well overnight.
□ Give Spiritual and Emotional Support. Many depressed persons have found that the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses provided the spiritual encouragement to endure. (Hebrews 10:25) But Irene, whose depression lasted 18 months, admitted: “One evening before the meeting, I cried because I could hardly bear to think of facing everyone.” She added: “But my husband encouraged me, and after saying a prayer, our family did go. Though I had to fight back tears during the meeting, I was so thankful to Jehovah God for giving me the strength to be there.”
In addition to the spiritual help, a depressed mate needs the reassurance that he or she has your emotional support. Irene describes how her husband did this: “At home after the children were asleep, my husband and I would talk, and sometimes I would cry for close to an hour. His supportive understanding was so helpful. He prayed with me, listened to me, or gave me a shoulder to cry on—whatever I needed at the time.” Since a Christian is concerned about pleasing his or her spouse, frequently reassure the depressed one that he or she is doing this.—1 Corinthians 7:33, 34.
□ Provide Physical Help. Household chores and care of the children may suddenly seem overwhelming to a depressed wife. The husband (as well as the children) can help with cleaning and cooking. Try to avoid asking her what to do, as this can add pressure. “My husband, Bob, didn’t let anyone pile anything on me at that time. He was sort of a buffer,” explained Elizabeth, a mother who became severely depressed. “All I really had to concentrate on was just getting better.” She added: “The doctor not only prescribed medication but also told me to exercise every day. Bob encouraged me to follow the doctor’s orders. We walked every day.” A well-planned outing with the depressed one also helps. All of this takes much initiative on the part of the husband.
Help From Others
“A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress,” states Proverbs 17:17. The genuineness of a friendship is evident during a time of distress, such as depression. How can a friend help?
“When I was depressed, a friend wrote to me several times and always included encouraging Scriptures,” reported Maria. “I would read the letter over and over, crying as I read it. Such letters were like gold to me.” Encouraging letters, cards, and phone calls are deeply appreciated. Warm visits also help. “If no one comes, it reinforces the idea that we’re all alone,” adds Elizabeth. “Pray with the person, tell some upbuilding experiences, even cook a meal and bring it over as a family. One friend made me a box of little odds and ends. Unwrapping each item provided such a pleasant surprise.”
Of course, when it comes to things like running errands and doing housework for a depressed person, be discerning. Listen to him. Don’t insist on doing something if he does not want it done. At times, knowing that someone is doing work that he should be doing may add guilt. The depressed one may prefer that it be left undone.
The elders, or spiritual shepherds, in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have also provided invaluable help. Irene explains: “I talked with a couple of the elders about my problem. (My husband came along for support.) This was a big step and helped me a great deal. I found that these men really do care.” By carefully listening and by being well prepared, these men will be able to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls.”*—1 Thessalonians 5:14; Proverbs 12:18.
Knowing when to seek professional help is vital—in fact, it may save a life! At times the condition becomes so severe that arrangements should be made to see that the depressed one gets needed professional care. Don’t count on the depressed one to decide. Often it means making the necessary appointment for him. You can reassure him by saying: ‘I’m sure your illness is not serious, but it should be checked to relieve everyone’s doubts. Though I love you very much, I’m not a doctor.’ Be kind but firm!
Helping a friend or mate defeat depression is not an easy task, but perseverance may be lifesaving. Often, your caring makes the difference. For instance, Margaret, when she reached her deepest low, told her husband that she wanted to give up and die. He warmly said: “I’ll help you not to give up.” Overwhelmed to see his care, Margaret explained: “I knew then I could go on.” She did and eventually defeated her depression.
See “Winning the Fight Against Depression” in our October 22 issue of this year.
See “An Educated Tongue—‘To Encourage the Weary’” in the June 1, 1982, issue of our companion magazine, The Watchtower.
[Box on page 13]
Reasoning in a Way That Builds Self-Esteem
One woman, whose marriage was shattered by her husband’s infidelity, became depressed and suicidal. She later confided to a skilled counselor: “Without Raymond, I am nothing . . . I can’t be happy without Raymond.”
The counselor asked: “Have you found yourself happy when you are with Raymond?” Her reply: “No, we fight all the time and I feel worse.” He continued: “You say you are nothing without Raymond. Before you met Raymond, did you feel you were nothing?”
“No, I felt I was somebody,” blurted the depressed woman. The counselor then replied: “If you were somebody before you knew Raymond, why do you need him to be somebody now?” Discussing this case in his book Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders, Dr. Aaron Beck stated: “In a subsequent interview, she stated that the point that really struck home was: How could she be ‘nothing’ without Raymond—when she had lived happily and was an adequate person before she ever knew him?” She overcame her depression.
[Box on page 15]
Could Your Home Environment Cause Depression?
□ Is self-esteem undermined by thoughtless comments such as ‘Why aren’t you a better wife?’ ‘I love you in spite of the kind of person you are,’ or ‘Why are you always so thoughtless?’
□ Is guilt repeatedly provoked by making the spouse always feel responsible, regardless of the facts?
□ Does the atmosphere in the home discourage the open show of emotions, making whoever displays such seem to be a weakling?
□ Is one made to feel that he or she must be nearly perfect to measure up to the expectations of a spouse?
□ Is open and direct communication blocked?
[Pictures on page 16]
One depressed person said that ‘letters from a friend were like gold’