Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting more than 16 million men and women (almost 6.7 percent of the adult population) and 3.1 million adolescents. And the numbers are rising, particularly in the current climate which is a constant bombardment of negativity, gloom and in some ways a sense of hopelessness.
Depression is described as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. It isn’t just a bout with the blues or something you can just “snap out” of. It most definitely is not a weakness.
So there are a couple of things to understand about depression. First of all, it’s levels to it. While I am no doctor, I’d imagine that for the average person experiencing some form of it, it’s probably a mild case. This means that’s it’s your mother, father, partner, sister, brother, friend, a co-worker who for all appearances seem perfectly fine. In the inside though, they are struggling with how to cope and speak to someone about it. While some may be able to function at a high enough level to take care of their responsibilities, internally, it’s a heavyweight fight happening to keep their focus and on some days to simply get out of bed. The point is, depression doesn’t always look like the dramatic portrayal you may see in the media. Not to say there aren’t extreme cases as such but I think the times when people tend not to know how to support people is when it doesn’t include someone being in the middle of a full meltdown for them to understand the severity of their pain. While everyone is different and the needs vary, from my experience there are a few universal things I’d like you to consider when dealing with someone who suffers from depression.
1. Do not refer to them as “Crazy.” They are not crazy. We tend to label people when we don’t understand them. Most people who do not experience depression tend not to understand it. It’s important to know how difficult it is for most to open up about what they are going through. To then turn and call them crazy or say they “look crazy” in response to them doing so is to create an unsafe environment which often leads to isolation which can be dangerous.
2. As stated earlier, depression is not a sign of weakness. Some of the strongest people you will ever meet suffer from it. Ironically, it’s probably a contributing factor. To always have to be the “strong one,” the one people lean on, depend on, lay their burdens on can take a toll on a person and cause life to weigh heavy. The ability for them to get up each day and do even a fifth of any of the things they accomplish is a real sign of their strength.
3. In the black community, in particular, we tend to challenge someone’s faith. Listen, let me be very clear here, for those of us who are believers, faith is not the issue. It is by faith that we are still here, and it is by faith that we are still going. Faith is what gives us just enough hope to stay the course and just enough light at the end of the tunnel to believe that we can get to the other side of this depressive episode or whatever triggering thing has contributed to it.
4. Provide a safe space. Allow for them to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Give them room to be, just as they are in the place that they are in without the pressure to feel better. It is not on you to fix us, sometimes its merely holding our hand, wiping away tears and sitting silently as we work through the things that likely had been buried deep inside. Words of encouragement are great, so long as it isn’t rooted in this idea that we need to change our thoughts. Remember, this is not some fleeting feeling but a psychological issue that runs deeper than, just think positive.
5. Consider in what ways you may be a trigger. If the person has explained their needs or how certain things impact them, hear them. Maybe its a saying or line of questioning that reminds them of a dark time in their life. It’s essential to adhere to the triggers they’ve described so that you aren’t perpetuating them, even if you are trying to help. Everyone receives motivation and encouragement different so it may take you adjusting your approach to be effective in your attempt to support them.
Ultimately, as with anything that anyone is experiencing, compassion is always necessary. Allowing yourself to consider what the person may be going through in a way that creates a sensitivity in how you approach and support them can make all the difference between someone who can come out of their depressive episode or who ultimately succumbs to it.
If you or someone you know are experiencing depression, I encourage you to reach out to someone. I know it’s tough, I know it may feel hopeless but you can, and you will get through this. Feel free to reach out to me if you need. Just don’t give up!
National Suicide Prevention Hotline