Depression is difficult enough to deal with when you’re the one suffering from it, but it’s equally difficult for friends and family. Something I’ve observed be it good or bad is that for a lot of folks, there’s one of three ways to react to interaction with someone suffering.
The act like nothing happened approach. This is a weird situation where to me it feels like no one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Conversations continue more or less ‘as they had been’ and any mention of down feelings is sort of ignored. For some I think maybe this works but a lot of folks also get the feeling that this presents as disinterest the emotions of the person in question. This is how the sense of isolation often gets worse in my view. While perhaps well meaning I think it this type of communication that often feeds into the fears most people suffering from depression already have.
The “One Word Reply”, or two words often. In some ways this extends from the ‘nothing happened’ approach but with a throttling back in communication. I get it, what do you say to someone who is in the depths of depression? You can’t say anything that miraculously makes things better, you may fear their anger. The end result is that you limit what you say to simple one word responses like “nice”, “OK”, “hug” or the most common “I’m sorry”. Those of us on the receiving end though share some responsibility for this. It’s hard to tell someone “I could really use more communication”. It’s still a challenge but gradually I try to bring up my concerns etc with more force.
The last approach is the most helpful, the listener. This might be the hardest thing to understand since at it’s core it isn’t about speaking it’s about letting the person say what they need to and not making a snap or abrupt judgement. I know for me this has been difficult. My grasp of my own anger and fears and my desire not to snap at friends created a self-imposed communication exile as it were. It’s more about trying to get the person to engage and let it out. For some it’ll be a torrent of things they can verbalize for others it’s a slow drip. It isn’t easy, it’s difficult and it gets repetitive unfortunately and I think what some folks don’t always understand is that clinical depression and most mental illness is a lot about repetition. You don’t go through therapy and miraculously never talk about the problems again. You loop, you repeat, you explore other ways of identifying, coping and processing. It’s boring to be the listener, I get that, but in a lot of cases I feel like this is the most useful thing to someone suffering from depression can feel. Pick your moments, for me I try to catch myself when I’ve been rambling and try to re-engage whomever I’m speaking with and refocusing back on them for a bit.
I won’t go into the fourth type, which is the dismissive or the tough love. These types of communicators are usually just making the problem worse by either contending that the person isn’t depressed or they feel that raw confrontation is the best way to ‘fix it’. I know that works for some people, and with situational depression it can serve a purpose but if we’re talking about diagnosed depression this is actually the worst type of communication.
So if you are suffering from depression and having difficulty with communicating know that you have to try where possible to let the other side know what’s working for you, what’s not. It’s hard to sometimes say these things and not come off as being self centered or concerned but the reality is silence on our part is often the reason it’s so hard to find help. People on the other end, I know it’s scary, I know empathizing with someone suffering from mental illness isn’t easy and you yourself can get lost in the fatigue it generates but trust me, a few lifeline people in someone’s life can make all the difference.