Many of our loved ones deal with mental disorders. Some are minor and temporary while others are more chronic and threatening. Many friends and family members of those who suffer aren’t exactly sure what to do. As a result, they unintentionally and unnecessarily complicate the situation, making things worse.
I had such an experience with a friend of mine while in college. She had suffered from depression since a very early age and was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Soon after we met, she became friends with all the guys in my apartment and would often come to us when she was struggling. There were many times when we would stand outside my apartment at 3 a.m. talking. We were attending a religious private school and it seemed that all of the advice she received — from me, other friends and even religious leaders — only made it more difficult for her. It gave her the feeling that her spiritual relationship with God was not strong enough.
All of these well-meaning, yet ignorant, people complicated her life by having her frantically searching for a solution to her problem.
In an address about dealing with depression, educator Jeffrey Holland described it as, “… An affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively.”
Those kinds of suggestions make things more difficult for the afflicted and can worsen his or her condition.
So, what should you do? Take a simpler approach. A simple approach, for the most part, is just taking the time to be with our loved ones and to hold off on judgment or advice. They need a safe place and by doing these simple things, we can provide that for them.
In the case of my friend, I realized later that what she really needed was someone to be with her — a shoulder to cry on or arms to hold her — when she felt the deep pull of her depression. She didn’t need us to try to solve her problems, even if at times she wanted us to. When she spent some time in the hospital, she needed us to come visit her and let her know that we cared and were thinking of her. What she really needed, was not lectures or advice, but for her friends to be merciful, non-judgmental and kind.
This simple approach is sometimes hard to take, especially when we cannot understand what our loved ones are really going through. It is OK to research depression or other mental disorders to help you understand what your loved one is facing. However, neuroses, psychoses and genetic predispositions are all things that take therapists and psychologists years to study and research before they can treat them effectively. It is important, therefore, that if you feel a loved one is in need of such professional help, that you understand that such help is available and, in many cases, necessary.
When my friend was struggling with cutting or suicidal thoughts, we all wanted so badly to give advice or fix the problem, but our suggestions were almost always misguided. By taking the simple approach of just being there for support, however, we could have done so much more to buoy her up. We could have helped her see that we were there for her when she needed it — not with a solution or a Bible in hand, but with love and caring.
Sometimes we have to realize that it’s OK to not be able to understand or empathize. Taking a simple approach of dealing with our loved ones who suffer from mental disorders may at first seem counterintuitive, but ultimately simple acts of love and support are the best help that we can provide.
In conclusion, the best way you can help your loved ones who deal with depression is by just being there for them. Give them a shoulder to cry on. Listen as they talk through what they’re feeling. Give them a safe environment. Avoid trying to give suggestions or false hopes. Doing so could only complicate the situation and leave them feeling confused and even more depressed.
Do you have experience with helping loved ones who suffer from depression or other mental disorders? What has helped you?