The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people in the world suffer from depression. With that shocking statistic, it’s likely that at some point, everyone will interact with somebody battling depression. The very people you wouldn’t expect to be depressed, such as a family member, a close friend, a professional colleague, or your supervisor, may be fighting it at any given time.
One component of depression that’s especially difficult to combat is the criticism and stigma that comes from other people. Those people may not realize that their comments and behaviors are hurtful or negative, and may be making the depressed person feel even worse. With this fact in mind, here are five things to remember when we interact with people who may be fighting depression. These things will not only help overcome the societal stigma that surrounds depression, but they may also even serve to help the person who’s dealing with depression.
- Value them. They aren’t defective or broken.
The human body is complex. With its many mysterious functions and structures, the human brain is even more complex. Though the causes of some types of depression aren’t yet fully understood or known, many people assume that a depressed person is flawed or defective in some way. The value of a person does not correlate with a depression diagnosis.
Depression can manifest for many different reasons. But in no way is it evidence that someone is defective or broken. The most constructive and supporting way you can react is to continue valuing the depressed person and continue to perceive him or her as valuable, strong, and complete.
- Support them. They’re fighting a battle.
Depressed people are engaged in a significant battle. They don’t need bullies, they need cheerleaders. Friends can become angels in their dark moments, and angels can become lifesavers. You get to choose if you’re going to be a giver or a taker. Be a giver. Generously share your gifts of friendship, assistance, encouragement, and acceptance with others.
- Maintain your standards. Expect respect.
Irritability is one of the many symptoms of depression. There’s no excuse for anyone, even a depressed person, to treat others with disrespect. But you need to strive to allow negativity between you and a depressed person go in one ear and out the other. But it’s also important for you to set boundaries and expectations for your interactions with a depressed person.
If a depressed person hurts your feelings, it’s okay to let them know how you feel. But as with any other relationship, you should strive to avoid placing blame in subsequent interactions. Focus on clearly telling the person how you feel, and explain what you expect from them instead. If the person is unwilling to accept your input, try again later after emotions have cooled. Let the person know you love him or her, but you love yourself, too. This models not only self-love but also effective communication skills and intentional boundary-setting.
- Respect them, too. Don’t condescend.
Stigma and negativity are attached to battling depression. But it isn’t depressed people who are stigmatizing—it’s our culture. Showing respect is a powerful way to reduce societal stigma and help limit depression’s cultural impacts. Respect is a value that involves looking beyond the depression and perceiving the person as a whole.
Depression can mask a person’s positive and remarkable qualities. Don’t let depression deceive you and the depressed person. Celebrate what you don’t perceive on the surface by seeking the goodness in those fighting this persistent illness. It’s still there.
There’s no need to tiptoe around issues as though you’re walking on eggshells. Just go about your business and act as though the depressed person is 100 percent healthy. Sometimes living purposefully and predictably can curtail depression’s repercussions.
- Love them. They are still able to give and receive love.
Every human being is able to love and being loved, even if he or she is depressed. The need and capacity for love don’t change due to depression. It’s always there—all you have to do is reach out and receive it! But also, be ready to give it. You’ll discover there’s far more love out there than you ever dreamed there could be.
In the small reprieves from depression’s seemingly relentless symptoms are wonderful interludes of remarkable communion, laughter, and joy. You will have to wait for those interludes to arrive. It’s like your favorite movie: not every scene is the best one. You watch the whole thing for the good parts.
- Be there. This may be all they need right now.
Just as fog invades a meadow and obscures your view, depression sneaks up on its subjects. Their moods are often unstable and volatile. They can’t control themselves as though they were devices with levers or switches. Remember that invading fog? You can’t simply wish it away.
A depressed person is trying to be engaging, pleasant, and happy, but what he or she needs is simple—just be there. Simply sit and read books together, watch a funny movie together, or have coffee or tea at your favorite café together. If the sun is shining and a soft breeze is gently beckoning you outside, invite the person to go for a walk. No psychology is required; only your presence is. Let the fog fade as the sun rises to welcome a new day. The depressed person may not notice immediate results, but he or she actually may!