Depression is a serious but treatable condition, and recovery is made infinitely easier by the support of a loved one or a friend. However under pressure, their role often gets dangerously blurred, putting strain on the relationship and often resulting in the sufferer not getting the help they so desperately need. To avoid these common problems, it's critical that both the person with depression and the one supporting them have a realistic understanding of what the role of a loved one is in helping them recover.
The role of a loved one is:
a) To be there for them if they need someone to talk to
If you're a good friend, then you won't abandon a buddy who starts suffering from depression. Instead, you'll lend an ear to listen if your friend needs someone to talk to, which is a wonderful gift to give - anyone who's ever suffered from depression will tell you how great it feels to be able to talk to someone and get things off their chest.
b) To remind them that their suffering is temporary
One of the cruelest features of depression is that it can trick the sufferer into thinking that their pain in permanent, and that they're destined to be miserable for the rest of their life. Your role as a close friend or loved one is to offer them hope by reminding them that if they get the right help, they'll be able to recover and feel well again.
c) To encourage them to get help
Many people who suffer from depression are unwilling to seek help due to the stigma surrounding depression or because they're scared of opening up to someone they don't know. But if you continuously encourage them to do so, they're much more likely to.
d) To try and encourage them to take part in enjoyable activities.
Many people with depression shut themselves off from the world and rarely leave the house (or their bed) - yet find that when they do make the effort to go out, they feel all the better for it. So encourage them to go out with you and do something fun.
The role of a loved one is not:
a) To be there for them 24/7
You have your own life to lead. It is unreasonable for anyone to expect you to be there for them every hour of the day.
b) To be their therapist
If your friend suffers from depression, then they need to be seeing a professional therapist - and unless you are one, then that's way outside the scope of friendship, and the blurring of the friend/therapist line can have devastating consequences. Like I talk about in my post Does Your Lover Double As Your Therapist, it's detrimental to your relationship, since the person with depression can easily become dependent and needy, creating a very unbalanced friendship that can eventually end with you saying "enough is enough" and cutting ties. Secondly, it's detrimental to your friend with depression, since unless they see a professional therapist and do the other things they're supposed to do to recover, they never will.
c) To "save" them
I cannot say this emphatically enough: you role as someone supporting a loved one with depression is not to "save" them. Yet unfortunately, it's been my observation that many supporters think this is their job - and thus feel guilty when they inevitably can't play the role of hero. It's also been my observation that many sufferers of depression think this is their supporter's role - and thus feel angry when their loved ones don't end up saving them.
Here's the candid truth: only the person suffering from depression has the power to save themselves.
They are the only ones who can make sure they take their medication.
They are the only ones who can commit themselves to therapy and read self-help books to understand what triggers their depression and learn how to manage those triggers.
They are the only ones who can make themselves exercise; who can make sure they get good, regular sleep; and who can commit themselves to eating healthily and laying off drugs and alcohol.
Their illness is their responsibility, and it's up to them whether they choose to accept that responsibility and take charge of their recovery or not.
In short, your role is not to save your friend; rather, it's to stand by your friend while they save themselves.
If you enjoyed reading this post, I encourage you to download a FREE copy of my memoir here. Recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression, I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone - that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery - so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories - particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as "beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring ... a testament to hope."
Note: This post was originally featured on Depression Is Not Destiny.