Depression is lonely. It's alienating and desolate. For those of us who've been in the throes of misery and despair, even loved ones can seem like outsiders — strangers who've abandoned us, despite their best efforts to the contrary.
In some of my darkest moments, I've felt the confusion and helplessness of frustrated friends and family; their desperate desire to help; their helplessness and fear.
There's no question that depression is an arduous experience for everyone involved.
So what should you do, when someone you love is suffering so much?
I'm not a mental health professional, but from the perspective of someone intimately familiar with the darkness of depression, here are six ways I'd suggest you can support someone you love:
1. Be there.
Be there unequivocally, without judgment or opinion. Don't offer unsolicited advice or try to fix everything. Don't criticize. Just be present, through the sadness and discomfort. Let them know they're not alone. Your compassionate presence can mean the world to someone in the depths of despair.
2. Show them how much they have to live for.
Don't dictate to someone how they should or shouldn't feel — don't tell them that they should be grateful or positive or anything other than how they are. Instead, let them know how wonderful, valuable and important they are to you, and to others.
3. Help them help themselves.
Show them that there are a wealth of options for people suffering from depression, from support groups to psychiatrists to counselors. Do some specific research — make a list of phone numbers, email addresses, websites. With depression comes a serious lack of motivation, so make it as easy as possible for your loved one to seek help.
4. Know your stuff.
There's a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding depression. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of the illness, and you'll be a much greater asset to the person you love.
5. Go easy on yourself.
You can't solve someone's problems or heal them of their ills. You're not their doctor or therapist, and even if you were, medical professionals aren't miracle workers, either. People have to participate in their own healing — they have to want to help themselves. What you can do is be there. Show them support and love and acceptance. You can offer a helping hand and a shoulder to lean on. Otherwise, be realistic about your role.
6. Never give up.
Dealing with someone who's depressed can be frustrating and exhausting. Always tend to your own needs and don't burn yourself out, but try not to give up on them, even if they do their best to push you away. Stick it out. Your love could be their life preserver.