I have depressive illness. At the moment it is controlled by medication and careful management of what I do. I have to be careful not to take on too much, or to commit to too much. When I do I inevitably crash and burn. What I have found in the 14 years that I have lived with my illness is that people who haven’t experienced depression or seen someone close to them experience it, have absolutely no idea how to deal with it, or how to treat people suffering from it. All too often it is still considered to be a “made up” ailment that people just need to get over.
When Sassycat asked if people had any ideas I sent her this “What advice would you give to people close to someone suffering from depression/anxiety/a mental health crisis?” She does an amazing job hosting this prompt and I will be interested to see what advice other people have to offer.
At the moment I work in the construction industry which is very male dominated, and currently there are 49 men and only 3 women (all office based). A few of those men have come to see me and told me they are struggling with depression and anxiety. I have offered encouragement to visit the GP, told them how brave they have been to share their feelings, and how just getting out of bed that day was an achievement. The supervisors and directors said they needed to man the £@@# up and get on with it. Considering my own experiences and that of my children this rankles somewhat. So, my first bit of advice is to employers. If you discover a member of staff is struggling with mental health problems:
- Tell them you do not understand (unless you actually do) but you want to help in any way you can.
- Be supportive, and ask if they want to reduce their hours for a short time. Depression is exhausting, so they may benefit from a shorter day.
- Don’t be an arsehole.
- Don’t tell them to get on with it, get over it, or man up. If it were that simple they would have done it already.
- Encourage them to go to see their Doctor if they haven’t already.
- Remember, if someone falls into a severe depression they could be off sick for years, so a short term adjustment is less painful in the long run than an employee on long term sick.
Perhaps you notice a change in behaviour? Your best friend stops calling you, or messaging and never seems to be free to meet up. When I hear about behaviour like that I immediately wonder what is going on to make them withdraw, and in some cases it is depression creeping in. I know I withdraw when I need to, when my energy is spread too thin. Some people who know me well recognize this and reach out. Others feel rejected. Over the years I have had many friends who have been unable to support me through these times, took the lack of contact as a personal slight and withdrew their friendship.
So if you have a friend whose behaviour changes, especially if you know they battle with mental illness, my advice is this:
- Ring them. If they don’t answer, and many people feeling down won’t, send them a message.
- Tell them you are thinking about them and how much they mean to you.
- Don’t push them to go out, suggest you visit them for a coffee. If they say no, offer to talk on the phone instead.
- Don’t be surprised if they cancel plans. When it came down to it they may not be able to face it. Tell them you understand and that you will be there when they are ready.
- Don’t give up on them. They don’t want to be a bad friend but depression is like being in a pit and you can’t escape.
I wasn’t sure how to describe this section. I’ve tried to use gender neutral language, so I hope it’s clear I mean whomever you are in a relationship with…
This is hard, the person you love suddenly loses their spark, their energy, the thing which makes them “them”. I can’t imagine how MrH felt when I broke. Probably helpless and frustrated, but you know what, he never let me down. He did everything he could to help and support me.
Things you might be able to do that may help your special someone:
- Don’t criticize them for not doing things around the house, just pick up the slack.
- Tell them you love them, often.
- Hug them. Tight hugs act on the sympathetic nervous system and can help to reduce stress.
- They may not want to go out, don’t push them to.
- Don’t make them feel bad for not going out.
- If they don’t want sex, be understanding, be loving, be caring.
- Look after them.
- Run them a bath rather than tell them they smell because they haven’t washed in days.
- Be gentle and kind.
When it’s your children it’s especially hard to manage. Your instinct will be to wrap them in cotton wool or bubble wrap, or perhaps prevent them from leaving the house.
Having been through this twice now you would think I should be able to give out some pretty sound advice but, and it’s a big but… every child is different and your relationship with them will determine how much they let you help them.
Anyway, here are the things I have learned:
- DO NOT OVER REACT. This cannot be stressed enough. If your child tells you they have tried to end their life, remain calm, tell them you are personally glad they didn’t. Do not lay a guilt trip on them, you know what I’m talking about – “think about how that would have hurt me”, or “how could you do that to me” type speeches.
- IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. If you have your own mental health issues do not try to fix them with the things that work for you.
- Encourage them to see a Doctor, but be prepared for them to refuse. If they agree, offer to take them.
- ASK DON’T TELL. The chances are that they feel out of control, or lacking controk of their life, and so they wanted to end it. It’s important to show them they have a voice and choices which you respect.
- Be there. Don’t hover, or crowd them, just let them know that you are there and ready to listen, talk, help in any way you can.
- Tell them you love them, how special they are, and how proud you are of them.
- Some children may recognise their feelings and reach out before they get to this point. Regardless I suggest the same things. Don’t over react and don’t belittle their feelings.
- Take care of them. Make them their favourite meals.
- Encourage them to confide in their friends.
- Remind them they are not abnormal, and that lots of other people feel this way. Reassure them that they are not alone.
I hope that these hints and tips are helpful, I also hope with all my being, that you never need them.
This weeks prompt is what advice would you give to someone who is trying to help someone who is struggling with mental health issues. For more posts on this topic click the image above.
More of my posts about mental health: