According to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the year 2020, depression will be the number two cause of "lost years of healthy life" worldwide. However, the cost in human suffering cannot be estimated.
Having lived with a depressed partner for 3 years and
suffered anxiety and depression for 5 years, I've
experienced both sides. In this article, I'll show you
exactly what you can do - and, what you shouldn't do - to
help your loved one.
1. Please, however frustrated you feel, please never say to
a depressed or stressed person: "Come on, snap out of it.
What have you got to be worried or sad about anyway. People
have it much worse than you." Please understand that these
illnesses cannot be "snapped out of." You wouldn't say this
to someone with high blood pressure or pneumonia because you
know it isn't that simple. Stress, depression and anxiety
are real illnesses that have specific causes. Asking someone
to snap out of it makes that person feel inadequate or that
they're doing something wrong. Absolutely not so. Comparing
their circumstances to people who are suffering greater
hardship is no use either. I couldn't have given two hoots
about other people when I was ill because their
circumstances meant nothing to me. I was struggling to solve
my own problems and couldn't see anything else. Knowing that
others are starving, are terminally ill, or suffer in
squalor didn't matter a jot because they didn't make my
problems go away. One more thing about such statements: they
confront the sufferer with their illness and they put
pressure on them. This will cause sufferers to retreat
further and further into their own world. Better is to
offer love and support: "I'm always here if you need me or
want to talk." And 3 little words can mean so much: "I love
you." I didn't hear them for 3 years and believe me, I
missed them so very much.
2. As a loved one, it is totally natural to want to
understand what is happening. Many loved ones conduct
research into these illnesses to develop understanding.
Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. However, a problem can
arise if you start to impose your knowledge on the sufferer.
This happens when you observe certain behaviors and habits
performed by sufferers and comment on why they are behaving
in such a way. For example, you hear a sufferer put
themselves down, so you say "That's a part of your illness.
I've been reading about it and self-deprecation is one of
the reasons why people become depressed. You need to stop
putting yourself down." Again, this is confrontational and
puts the sufferer under pressure. All they'll do is dismiss
your comments and clam up whenever you're around as they'll
feel they're being scrutinised. A better way is to challenge
them very gently by reminding them of a time when they did
something good. For example, you hear a sufferer say: "I'm
useless, I never get anything right." You can say "Sure you
do, hey, remember the time when you...". Do you see the
difference in approach? The first is more like a doctor
assessing a patient, the second is just a normal, natural
conversation and doesn't mention stress, depression or
anxiety. This is very, very helpful as it shifts focus from
a bad event: "I'm useless..." to a good one: "remember
when.." without exerting pressure.
3. Finally, you may find a resource - a book, a video, a
supplement etc. - that you think will help someone to beat
their illness. Perfectly natural. But there's a problem. It
confronts the sufferer with their illness and puts them
under pressure to do something about it. The result of this
will be resentment followed by retreat into their own world.
Isolation is a part of these illnesses. Sometimes, you just
can't bear to be around people. My ex-partner used to sleep
in a dark room for an entire weekend because she just
couldn't handle anyone being around her. "I bore people,
I've nothing to say of interest and I don't want anyone
asking me how I'm feeling. I just want to be on my own." I
know, it cuts you to ribbons when you hear such words from
someone you care deeply about. But please, you must resist
the urge to DIRECTLY give them a resource you think will
help them. For someone to emerge from these illnesses, they
have to make the decision themselves. A direct offer will
more often than not be refused. So, if you find something
you think will help, leave it lying around somewhere your
loved one will find it. The idea here is for them to CHOOSE
by themselves to investigate further. Such an INDIRECT
approach is more effective because once again, there is no
pressure, no reminder, no confrontation. It is the sufferer
who takes a willing first step towards recovery.
It is so hard to understand and reach loved ones when
they're caught up in these illnesses but please believe me,
these ideas are very effective and they will help.
See you next time.
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