Health

Depression Deserves Empathy: What You Can do to Help

About half of my closest friends suffer from a mood disorder for which they are currently taking medication. In fact, 1 in 10 adults is said to suffer from depression in the US alone.

The complaint I hear most often from my friends is that their medication turns them into zombies—minus the brain eating binges, thankfully.

The other complaint I hear is how annoying it is to have their disorder so passively acknowledged by their family, friends and coworkers.

There are some people who don’t believe that depression is even a real thing. To those people, I say: It must be hard to live in that prison of fear of showing any signs of weakness; my guess is that you wouldn’t be categorized as ‘happy’ yourself.

To be human is to be vulnerable and to feel for other humans even if we don’t fully understand what they are going through. To everyone, I say: Try, try, try to imagine what your friend or family member is feeling. For the love of Pete, just ask them! Ask them to describe how their depression feels—to paint you a picture in words, or whatever will help you see what they are up against internally.

I imagine it would be quite difficult to “just be happy” when you feel as though you are carrying an SUV on your back all day long and are still expected to perform at maximum capacity at work, get supper on the table for the kids, keep the house presentable and be up for a romp in the sack—all without raising a complaint.

I want you to take a second to picture in your mind somebody attempting each of those tasks with an SUV strapped to their back. Do you feel their burden? The weight of the excess cargo? The strain physically and emotionally even to get out of bed and face the day? If yes, you are experiencing empathy as you should.

So, good for us for being able to empathize. But, where are the kudos for those unsung heroes who do their best every day even though they are dragging around such a heavy load?

The problem is that despite all the attention that depression has been given in the media in the last few years, it takes empathy, not statistics, to help someone you love that is suffering.

Empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.

My mother’s best friend has a hardcore fear of snakes, which my mother thinks is ridiculous. Why? Because most of us know that snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them. I told my mother to imagine what it would feel like if, instead of a small snake in their path, there was a huge hungry lion! My mother wouldn’t think her friend was over-reacting to a lion.

I told her to take a minute and really imagine a lion standing in front of her—no bars, no restrains, just a huge meat eating lion. My mother agreed that she would probably have the same reaction her friend has to snakes–she would freeze with terror, maybe pee a little and then run away screaming!

So, the next time they encounter a snake, I told my mother to stop and realize that in her friend’s mind, that snake is actually a terrifying lion. Then, she might be a little more empathetic to her friend’s reaction to the snake.

So, how does empathy help?

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To laugh at somebody or dismiss their feelings is to take away their voice so that they cannot communicate their suffering to anyone around them because it only falls on deaf ears.

We have all been at least mildly depressed at some point in our lives. It’s not too hard to imagine how low and awful your depressed friend or spouse might be feeling. And, if you can’t imagine, ask them to paint you a picture and try your best to understand.

Validate their feelings and let them know you are on their side. They deserve your respect and support in their struggle. It’s important to note that you can’t expect someone with depression to cheer up just because you tell them to. It’s like telling a blind person to try harder to see.

Depression is very tricky. Yes, there are medications, but they don’t make depression go away completely. There will still be ups and downs. Just being there through those ups and downs is all that you need to do. I love my friends. I suffer when they suffer because suffering together is better than suffering alone.

What else might help?

My son is also affected by depression as a result of having Asperger’s. This is a simple meditation we use sometimes when he is feeling particularly negative and self-defeating:

Cloud Meditation

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  • Lie down or sit comfortably and relax. Allow your thoughts to roam free without judgment.
  • Remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts. We have 70,000 thoughts on average per day. Just because we have negative thoughts doesn’t mean they are valid.
  • Picture a blue sky on a warm and sunny day.
  • Now picture one of your negative thoughts trapped in a cloud floating around in your lovely blue sky. Let’s say you are thinking, “I’m not good enough.” Picture those words in your cloud and then allow a light breeze to come by and begin to push the cloud across your mind’s visual plane and begin to dissipate as it floats away and disappears into nothing. After all, it’s just a thought and it doesn’t mean anything.
  • Do the same with any other negative thoughts that pop into your head.
  • Meditation is a practice in self-control and self-control is something that takes practice. Once you get good at the cloud meditation, try using the technique any time of day when a negative thought pops into your head and see if it helps relieve the buildup of tension, sadness, and anger throughout the day.

If you have a technique or story you’d like to share, please leave a comment. Together, we’ll get through this.

About the author

Sylvia Wells

Sylvia stays busy loving her blended family of five, working as an Executive Assistant, and doing her best to keep her personal health and priorities in check. She writes with light humor to connect with her audience and to keep herself amused.

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