To most of you readers, this may be your first experience supporting a loved one with depression or anxiety. If you are someone who has never endured a mental illness, it can be difficult or frustrating to understand and relate to the person seeking out your support. Despite the fact, being a part of their support system holds incredible significance and you play a vital role in the recovery process. Supporting someone with depression and anxiety is not easy, but it is more impacting than you realize.
First, it begins with understanding:
Make time to not only wholeheartedly listen to your loved one’s stories and feelings, but if possible, take the initiative to educate yourself on mental illness. Volunteer at local hospitals, research online or take a psychology class at a community college or online. Even knowing what cognitive behavioral therapy is can be a great conversation starter! Knowledge is an asset, better equipping you in dealing with situations that arise and overall communication with your loved one.
Your empathy impacts the trust a loved one has in you and others:
It takes a lot out of someone with depression and anxiety to admit what goes on inside their head. The fear of judgement, insecurity, and overall discomfort circulates their ability to be honest sometimes. However, because you are willing to listen, do your best to understand and acknowledge what is happening with them. You contribute to a foundation they can build upon, which is a support system. There, they can not only seek you, but others as well. No matter what, everyone needs someone to lean on.
Positive affirmations contribute to the self-talk a person has with themselves:
You are one of the voices in a person’s mind that either encourages or destroys them, so make sure those words are constructive, but kind and genuine. Be honest, but not condescending. Don’t belittle the truth just because it hurts. Speak from your heart – as cheesy as that sounds. Because if you’re transparent with your loved one, they can find the strength to be transparent with themselves.
Each person has their own ways with handling their depression and anxiety:
Every person with depression and anxiety possesses different mechanisms and habits that showcase their mental illness, whether that be in noticeable habits, such as fidgeting during stressful situations, or behaviors of an individual recovering in sobriety. Aside from obviously communicating with your loved one, take note to notice them from your end as well. Lastly, know that panic attacks and depressive episodes are normal, despite them being some of the most frightening things to witness. Let go fear and find the strength within yourself to help them keep fighting or ask for help.
Find ways to support them in ways besides listening and talking:
Sometimes, talking is not always the answer. You can do enough by simply being in their presence, contributing the space of another human to remind them the world won’t feel so awful tomorrow. Perhaps, they just need a long hug or someone that trusts them to wake up the next day or an afternoon spent listening to classic rock music. Everyone is different, and it’s a matter of finding out what works for your loved one most of all. Trust your gut. You know if it’s the right choice to leave them alone in a moment or not considering you know them best. Even spontaneously asking how they are doing can make all the difference in the world. You never know what happens to other people despite the face they put on. It’s not a lot to take a moment to reach out to someone and let them know you’re thinking about them.
You are a friend, not a therapist:
You can never fix another person, they can only fix themselves. Tempting as it may be to invest all your emotions into bettering another person’s sake, it is unhealthy and detrimental for both you and your loved one’s mental health. You cannot shoulder their struggles – because you have separate lives to live. Establishing relationship and emotional boundaries can strengthen your friendship or relationship, nudging your loved one to be careful in picking and choosing their emotional investments.
Their depression and anxiety do not make up their identity:
Perhaps, one of the biggest mistakes we can make is solely seeing this person as their depression and anxiety, feeling uncomfortable with certain behaviors they have, or pitying them unconsciously. People have so much more to them than their mental illness and deserve better than to be treated like lesser creatures. Look at your loved one for who they are, including their depression and anxiety. They are a composition of memories, favorite hobbies, love, experiences, pain, and vulnerability – just like you, a fellow human being trying to get through this wonderful but crazy existence called “life”.