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On depression and reaching out

abhorsen.

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Content warning for mention of suicide

Click the spoiler tag to read the post. I don't talk about suicide in any depth, but I do mention it in the broader context of depression and little things individuals can do to help people who are depressed.

I also want to mention that we all have shit to grapple with; these are just things I wanted to mention that could be good to do if you can do them. I'm not in any way advocating giving more of yourself than you want and/or are able to give; once it starts to take a toll on you, it's not a little thing for you anymore, either.
 

Spoiler

 

Depression and suicide are complex, multifaceted health issues that require complex, multifaceted approaches to address. There isn’t an easy fix for the broader societal problems that enable and exacerbate this public health crisis. That's why I’m not going to talk about the broader societal problem today - though I do recommend that everyone seek out people who are talking about long-term ways to help people who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses.

Instead, I’m going to talk about two little things for people who are not depressed to start to help people they know who are grappling with depression.

  1. Reach out.

    Reach out to people you care about who have a history of depression or who have expressed feeling intensely stressed, hopeless, or something along those lines.

    Tell them that you’re thinking of them. Tell that you like them. Tell them why you like them.

    Do it in a sentence. Do it in a few sentences. Do it in a paragraph. What’s a good memory that you have? Did they ever do something that really helped you or someone else? Is there something about them that you really admire that ISN’T about how strong they are in facing adversity? (Seriously, please don’t say this.)

    Whatever you say and however long it is, make sure this is centered entirely on them and contains absolutely no pressure. For example, rather than write, “Let’s get together soon!” you might write “Whenever you have the time/energy (no rush), I’d love to come take you out for coffee!” Ideally, you should also mention that you don’t need any answer or acknowledgement right now, because otherwise, guilt about not responding could *also* start to weigh down on them.

    This will not magically make them not-depressed. What it could do is help them get through the particularly awful moments and make them feel more comfortable reaching out when they do have the energy.
     
  2. Help with the small, simple things.

    Depression saps a person of their energy, and it makes even theoretically minor things seem like huge hurdles. People who are depressed will no do things they really need to do for days or weeks or even months. After awhile, the anxiety and shame over not doing that really simple thing starts to spiral in on itself, and that makes it even harder to do it (and also everything else).

    It can be really, really helpful to have someone proactively reach out and offer to do one of those small, simple things.

    That could be dropping that bill in the mail. It could be calling a refill into the pharmacy. It could be checking their voicemail and summarizing it. It could be changing the light bulb in their reading lamp. It could be requesting their absentee ballot.

    There are a dozen little things that are way too easy to be so hard and occupy way too bandwidth for how much time they should take, and taking one or two of them off someone’s hands can help so much more than you realize. There are people who have done some of those things for me, and there are no words for how much I’ve appreciated it - or how helpful I've found it.

Again: neither of these will make the people you care about not-depressed. There is no magic treatment for depression. However, things like this *can* give people who are struggling with depression the tools to get through the hardest moments and find the energy to do one or two extra things a couple days a week, and that really, really matters.

 

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FoxPatronus

Posted

Thank you for saying all this. This is such an important thing for people to hear.

 

I do not personally struggle with depression, but my best friend in the world has for most of their adult life, and I know that when they are really in the trenches, the last thing they want to do is try to "reach out" for help. Because depression fools them into thinking that asking for help is putting a burden on other people, or maybe that nobody will really care enough to want to help, anyway. I definitely think it's up to folks who do not suffer from depression to do the work and check on their people, and hold space for them to not be okay, and show them that they are loved in all their wholeness, on the good days and the bad ones.

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forever_dreaming

Posted (edited)

@FoxPatronus This is such good advice. I just wanted to expound upon it a bit (as well as the things that @abhorsen. mentioned). 

I struggle with depression from time to time, too. Usually my depression manifests itself as me trying to withdraw into myself; I’ll ignore texts or emails because talking to people makes me feel weary, I won’t go out much, etc. But that withdrawal comes with this huge sense of guilt, which is followed by anger and self-hatred. The cycle sort of works like this: I always feel massively guilty when I ignore those texts and messages and emails—but that guilt is battling with my weariness and inexplicable sadness and a lack of a desire for human interaction. Usually the latter wins out, but then the guilt transforms itself into anger at myself, for being too weak, for giving up, for another reason that I would normally recognize to be BS but would be amplified when I’m at my lows. It latches onto my insecurities and causes me to be overwhelmed with self-hatred—and that’s usually when I hit my lowest point. 

(Yeah, Depression Brain is seriously effed up.) 

When I was reading this post, I kept thinking about that cycle. If I’m at my lowest, I would hate to make someone else pull me out of the hole. That would make me feel insanely guilty and it would activate that cycle. So I think that if you’re sending those check-in texts, you should add that it’s okay for them to ask for help, whenever they feel like they’re strong enough to do so. Like Branwen said, this won’t magically cure their depression, but now they have something they can throw at their guilt to fend it off, and they can feel a bit stronger. 

The problem with depression is that it’s this hole that’s only big enough for one, so you’re stuck in there, all alone, trying to climb out. The only way you can get out is with someone else’s help—but you also have to try a bit yourself too. 

Think of it this way. People who tell people who are depressed to reach out are essentially telling them that when they’re standing down in that hole, they should shout for help. Okay, not bad advice—but they’re forgetting that the hole is continuously trying to screw them over. Every time they shout, the hole gets smaller and smaller and they soon suffocate. 

The better advice is that a friend walks along and they reach a hand down to pull you out—and you reach a hand out to grab their hand. You have to take the initiative too; in my opinion, it really can’t be a solo effort on either end. 

Edited by forever_dreaming
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MuggleMaybe

Posted

Quote

Depression saps a person of their energy, and it makes even theoretically minor things seem like huge hurdles. People who are depressed will no do things they really need to do for days or weeks or even months. After awhile, the anxiety and shame over not doing that really simple thing starts to spiral in on itself, and that makes it even harder to do it (and also everything else).

It can be really, really helpful to have someone proactively reach out and offer to do one of those small, simple things.

Branwen, thank you so much for this. :hug: This particular aspect of depression is not the only one I deal with, but it is the most constant and it is honestly unbelievable how exhausted and stressed I can become as a result of these small things. And the worst part is knowing that it's logically unreasonable to find these tasks overwhelming, because that makes it feel so shameful to ask for help. 

In fact, I have spent the past week in a depressed spiral driven largely by the dishes in my kitchen sink. I think if some magical fairy person came and washed them, I would literally sob for an hour out of relief. 

So, seriously, this is a great way to support your loved ones. Be assertive. Ask outright, "What is on your to do list?" And find a way to lighten the load. The impact for the other person will be so much greater than you might think (as evidenced by the fact that I am literally tearing up while writing this).

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