How to help a loved one through their depression!

My experience of depression

I've been struggling with depression and anxiety for nearly four years now. Not many people know this about me. I try not to make a big deal out of it, but perhaps I should. Someday's I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to face the day. The act of attempting to be productive is a constant reminder of how bad I am at dealing with life. A string of barbed wire that digs into a fleshy patch of skin. It's easier to just lay in bed and watch TV. This black cloud that looms overhead doesn't always manifest in forms of anxiety. Sometimes it's crippling loneliness. Sometimes I feel that no one truly understands. I feel different, I feel excluded, I feel abnormal.

There are other times when the weather changes and the clouds move on. I will have a few days, week or months without the doom and gloom. Sometimes I feel I've made a recovery. Sometime's I feel that all the work I've done to better myself, practice good habits and to implement healthy thought processes has worked, sometimes I think they've finally done the trick and outran those clouds... And then I fall over. I get stuck. The clouds are back and they're filling my mind with all these anxieties, all those doubts. All that hard work feels worthless.

Image via geniusawakening.com

Image via geniusawakening.com

Eventually I pick myself up off the floor and start moving again. One foot in front of the other. Slowly picking up the pace. Gradually the time comes when it's nothing but green grass and blue skies, and the weight of depression, the thick heavy cloud, has dissipated. Life is good again, but the clouds are sure to catch up eventually. For a while I live in a land of joy and plenty, but soon the fear of rain taints the the blue sky. I start to see grey in the whitest of clouds. 

This isn't a cry for help. This isn't a cry for attention. This is a catalyst, a conversation starter. There are others out there who go through this. There are many others our there who feel abnormal, who feel different and there are those out there who feel inferior. This is to let them know, whoever you are, wherever you may be, that you're not alone. This is to let you know that there are others out there who feel the same things you feel and there are those who go through the same daily struggle that you go through.

This is also a plea. A plea to open up conversations about personal difficulties. A plea to share our difficulties more freely. A plea to those who may not have suffered to try and listen,to understand. Perhaps, even a plea, to ask everyone, to be more attentive to the emotional well being of those around us.

Sobering statistics

 The signs of emotional and mental difficulties, while varied, aren't always that difficult to pick up on.  The key, is knowing what to look for, something that I'll get onto later, but for now, when the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 18 and 45, is suicide, you know we have a real problem. But it's a problem that goes much deeper than that. 

The problem affects both men and women. Especially those of us in high pressure environments. Especially those of us who are in a period of transition. Transitioning from school to uni, from uni to the workforce, from one job to another, even transitioning from one relationship status to another. Put simply most people will experience some form of mental health problem over the course of their lifetime. According to mind.org, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year and nearly 1 in 5 will have suicidal thoughts over the course of their life time.

To put that into context, if your family consists of your mum and dad, yourself and two siblings, over the course of your life time one of them will think about taking their own life. That is an insane statistic. In your friendship group of ten people that makes two of you who will think about it. Let that sink in for a moment.  Despite the prevalence of people suffering from these conditions I would struggle to name more than a handful of people going through something similar. So where are they all? Are they all sat in a confined society, away from prying eyes, or are they part of your friendship group, part of your society, part of your family? Are those you hold dearest suffering in silence?

So what can we do?

Now we can either sit back and carry on  paying little attention to the real feelings and emotions of those around us, or we can take an active interest in educating ourselves on the signs of anxiety, depression, anorexia, bulimia and the like. I don't want to sound like I'm blaming others for the suffering of myself or the suffering of another, that's really not what I'm trying to do here, I'm just trying to raise the issue that we could all, myself included, be doing much more in the fight for collective emotional and mental support.  It's too easy (and not representative of reality) to think "Oh, if they had a problem they would tell me, we're friends/family/partners/etc. If they were struggling they would come and speak to me" Unfortunately that just isn't the case. Even in the close group of friends that I have, where most of the individuals have been, or are going through mental difficulties and struggling with their everyday lives, we still struggle to talk to each other.

I was sat with a friend a few days back, having a long over due catch up, when I asked how things were going, not in the small talk, chit chat kinda way, but in the deep inquisitive "I'm-concerned-and-hope-things-are-okay" kinda way. My friend, lets call him Jeramiah, responded resolutely that things were going well, that things were just dandy, at least that's what he said until I opened up about my own difficulties. After confessing my own problems he proceeded to thank me, it turns out he had been going through something similar but didn't know how to talk about it. This is a prime example of what people who suffer from mental difficulties go through. In our social media society in which we post only the highlight reel of experiences, we seem to have forgotten that humans go through hardship. It's the way of life, but in today's landscape of picture perfect, Instagram worthy experiences, we have developed a stigma around the discussion of our weaknesses, our troubles and our fears.

What I'm trying to say is this: to those of us who go through difficulties, to those of us who feel we're being pulled under the waves of life, lets be more open with each other, lets take the plunge and talk to each other about these difficulties with those closest to us. Our closest friends are our closest friends for a reason. Let's use this wonderful resource of human interconnectedness for the better. Lets also pay more attention to those around us. Lets put the phone down for a while and just sit with each other. Lets really try and understand and comprehend our friends. It's about time we really started looking out for each other and now I'll share a few tips of how we can do that.

The warning signs a friend might be struggling with depression

Lets take a look at some of the warning signs that a friend might be suffering with depression. These are based on not just my experiences but also those observed and provided by friends and the internet:

It's not all doom and gloom. Lets stay positive and focus on how we can help! It all starts with recognizing the warning signs.

It's not all doom and gloom. Lets stay positive and focus on how we can help! It all starts with recognizing the warning signs.

1) They stop coming to events.

This is probably the easiest sign to pick up on. It is also probably my biggest sign that I'm not doing too well. I love to hang out and socialize but when I'm not faring to well to the struggles of life I begin to fade into the background. I stop messaging in group chats only occasionally responding to provide the impression I'm not too bad. You see, that's one of the problems, we don't like to be a burden on others. We don't like to appear weak and fragile. To counteract this we regress, we hide. 

2) They start to drink A LOT, or own their own. (Or other substance abuse)

I've had nights where I've instigated a night out even though I didn't want to go out. I've had nights were I've felt compelled to just drink. I've also had nights where I've just gotten drunk on my own, in the comfort of my own bed (not often I might add, but it's happened once or twice). I know it's not healthy. I know its not going to make me feel better but I do it anyway. I'm not alone in this.  If one of your friends starts drinking excessively or increasingly often, then maybe you should reach out to them. Perhaps you could suggest partaking in activities that don't revolve around drinking.

3) A loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy. 

This one ties into number 1 but this can be quite a good sign that something's not right. When going through a depressive episode one can often believe that nothing is worthwhile, that nothing can bring them happiness any more. This can also tie into my next point...

4) A decrease, or increase, in appetite.

When nothing can make life worthwhile any more, food often falls by the wayside. What's the point? It's not going to make you feel any better. Alternatively one will eat even more, constantly searching for something to ease the pain, or something that will provide such missing pleasure.

5) Social media posts. 

Often those suffering, desperately want someone to understand. They desperately want to feel connected and understood. However, bigger than their desire to connect, is their fear of rejection. It is because of this that they are more likely to post something broad and outreaching that hints at their current state. Like an article discussing depression, or an infographic or meme that sums up their experience. This acts as a plea for help without opening ourselves up to the fear of direct rejection that could arise if we were to talk to someone directly. 

6) They express negative thoughts and a general lack of will power.

This is actually quite a prominent feature of depression. Do you have a friend who only sees the negative. Who fails to see the point in activities? Do you have a friend who struggles to push themselves to complete a difficult task? DO you have a friend who just seems deflated all the time? Chances are they might be struggling with their mental health. However, it is very common for people suffering with depression to appear bright and cheery. One reason, as mentioned earlier, is they don't like to let others suspect something might be up. Take this as a warning sign as well especially if they are overly zealous but occasionally show signs of deflation and gloom.

These signs aren't conclusive by any means and just because someone exhibits one or two of these symptoms doesn't mean they're necessarily suffering. However, if someone exhibits most of these then perhaps they could use a friend.

So what exactly can we do to help? 

A wonderful little comic on helping someone with depression. Source unknown.

1) Reach out.

Speak to them, ask them if they're doing okay and let them know they can confide in you. Let them know you're there, whether they want to speak about it or not. Let them know you care.

2) Don't be judgemental.

Be understanding and for crying out loud do NOT tell them to just get over it and do not just tell them to see a specialist. While this may sound helpful and while they might need to see a therapist or psychologist, telling them bluntly and outright, to see a specialist, can come across as un-supportive. It can sound like you just want to pass them off onto someone else or it can sound like you're saying they are in such a bad place only a trained psychologist can help. At all times let them know you're there and that you care.

3) Bring them coffee or tea or hot coco or food.

Surprise them. Share a cuppa with them and have a chat. Don't force them to talk about things they don't want to talk about but just be there. Let them know that you're there and that you care. (Bonus: Coffee has been shown to have a positive effect on those suffering with depression, blog post on this to come next week)

4) Invite them to the gym with you.

Invite them to do something physically active. This one is a biggy, but also likely to be turned down. Physical exertion does wonders for depression but its bloody difficult to become motivated to do. This is why it's likely to be turned down, however I'd be much more likely to go if a friend asked me. If a friend asked me to something like rock climbing or bouldering then that's even better! This one might be worth pushing a little bit but if they turn around and decline absolutely, then let it go and be supportive.

5) Be patient.

They might reject your olive branch the first time you extend it. They might reject it the second time or even the third. The truth is some people are just not ready to be helped but if you mix it up, suggest different things then you might have more luck in helping them out. Be aware, helping someone with depression isn't easy so remember, be patient and be gentle. Do not try to force anything and do not get angry if they turn your offers down. Understand they might not be ready.

6) Remember, depression does not follow logic.

No matter how hard you try you can't logic yourself out of depression and often there's no logic behind why someone is depressed, they just are and it can be difficult to escape. Please take it seriously and please do not belittle what they are going through. Try and imagine what it must feel like to think that you're absolutely worthless and that nobody cares about you. Try and imagine what it feels like to think the whole world is out to get you and that the whole world is rigged for you to fail. Try imagining what it must feel like to think that your life will never get better, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try and no matter how long you keep trying. Once you've  tried to put yourself in this mindset, only then will you be able to come close to understanding what its like.

Other resources

There are many other signs that a loved one or friend is struggling and I strongly recommend spending fifteen minutes searching the inter-webs for more information and signs. Here are a few links to get you started. 

The NHS: Worried someone is depressed?

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/signs-someone-is-depressed.aspx

Mind.org.uk: Helping other people (A great resource for learning more about different emotional issues) 

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/

Mind.org.uk: How can friends and family help someone with depression

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/how-can-friends-and-family-help/?o=9222#.Vs-Bo_mLTIU

This blog post wasn't easy to write and it was even more difficult for me to share publicly, however, I feel that if it can start a conversation, or provide someone with the courage to reach out then it'll be worth it. Also I can't exactly go on saying people should be more willing to talk about mental health if I myself, am not willing to talk about it. So here I am, just a boy standing in front of the web, asking you to talk about mental health. (Notting Hill anyone?! No? Just me then, I see how it is)

If anyone wants to talk about anything that has been mentioned here, or you would like to talk to someone about the difficulties you may going through then feel free to email me at daniel1994codd@hotmail.co.uk Alternatively you can leave a comment below or you can find me on twitter @danielcodd1994  However, if you need IMMEDIATE help head on over to http://www.samaritans.org/  

I hope that with this blog post, and with all those to come, that I can be of service and that I can help.

With love, 

Daniel Codd