I struggle with cyclical depression.
It’s the actual worst. Some days I’m up, some days I’m down. It’s a thorn in my flesh I will battle for the rest of my life due to bipolar disorder. Since struggling with depression, God has blessed me with dear friends and family who meet me where I am and walk with me through my battle.
It’s often hard for me to iterate what to do and say when I’m down. It’s difficult for me to express how I feel and how others can help. Even when I feel fine and normal — like in this moment — it’s not easy for me to grasp the how to’s of supporting someone who is depressed. But here is my very best shot:
1. Talk about it.
Create a healthy, transparent and honest discussion around depression. Ask about their symptoms. How will you be able to know when they struggle? Ask how you can help. What are the right words to say and actions to perform when they are down? Simply discussing depression — and any other mental illness — with those who struggle lets them know you care for them and want to be with them during their battles.
2. Just be there.
Whether I feel high or low, it is so encouraging to experience the presence of a loved one. It’s easy to stick by someone’s side when they’re giddy and full of joy. It’s much harder to sit with them when they’re withdrawn and closed off. When you are present and engaged with someone who has depression, you say, “I am here for you and with you through this mess.”
3. Notice when they isolate themselves.
When down, I rarely reach out to anyone, even my dear roommate and family. I usually don’t reply to texts or meet up with friends. These habits make me appear flaky and distant. In reality, I feel ashamed because depression stifles my true personality and exuberance. I don’t want to be a social burden on anyone. If you notice a friend isolating himself, check in and ask if everything is OK.
4. Don’t get frustrated.
Never tell a person who struggles with depression that it’s his fault. It never is. In my case, because of bipolar, I will fight depression for my entire life. Very rarely is it triggered by an event or person. Don’t make us feel worse than we already do, we often feel false guilt and shame when we are down.
It also doesn’t help to say, “Just get over it,” or “read the Bible more,” or “think happy thoughts.” None of these are viable solutions and only tell us you clearly don’t know what it’s like to be depressed.
5. Practice self-care.
Though you may want to exert all of your time, energy and emotions into helping your loved one, it’s so important to take care of yourself first. Sometimes supporters suffer from their own symptoms like anxiety or insomnia. Eat well. Rest often. Exercise regularly. Take care of you before you take care of someone else. Attending support groups or therapy may expose hidden thoughts and emotions you experience while supporting someone with depression.