Friday, February 26, 2010

Understanding the Experience of Depression – Dealing with Your Friend’s or Family Member’s Misery

Friends and family of clinically depressed people should understand what their loved one is experiencing so an environment of safety and comfort can be established.

The Experience
The experience of depression is like swirling down into a black hole of nothingness where nobody and nothing matters. It is empty and dark. And, above all, depression is lonely because no two people experience depression in exactly the same way, and therefore, can never commiserate with anyone else – not that they would want to anyway.

Depression is not a feeling, like sadness. It is the opposite of feeling and the opposite of motivation. It sucks the sufferers in deeper with every breath they take, and leeches energy with every passing moment of the day. And when a person is mired in it, it can feel endless.

Situational or Clinical Depression?
If people experience a terrible incident in their lives, they may become depressed for a limited time. Eventually this feeling can fade with time and acceptance of the event. This is not a confusing situation for others because there is a definite event that preceded the downturn. Alternately, an attention seeker may exhibit similar symptoms to the clinically depressed, but when focused interest is bestowed upon them, they appreciate it and their mood is elevated.

Clinical depression is caused by nothing more concrete than a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is devoid of reason and therefore a very confusing state for everyone involved because it does not appear to be related to anything and so some feel sufferers should be able to snap themselves out of it as easily as they seemed to trip into it. Unfortunately, this is not how it works.

All Alone
Many depressed people try to hide themselves away from the world; or at least their symptoms, if they are marginally functional. During all this alone time, there are a portion of sufferers who might attempt to harm themselves. The continuum of self harm can include:

1. suicidal thoughts
2. reckless behavior
3. intentional self harm
4. suicide

Suicidal thoughts can be a coping mechanism – “I’d rather be dead than deal with the task before me.” Reckless behavior is passive action and can be as simple as not wearing a seatbelt. Intentional self harm is actively harming the body in such a way as to create physical pain as a stand in for the mental pain. And finally, suicide is the often unforeseen act. If someone is truly determined, they may not give warning signs; if they give warning signs, loved ones may not be prepared to put the pieces together because the pieces may not be obvious enough.

How to Help
Enduring depression is terrible. But not knowing how to help as you watch your friend or your family member suffer is a whole other kind of misery. First, people must understand there is no proper way to react to depression. However, there are some Donts and Dos:

* Ignore the fact they are depressed
* Treat them like they’re breakable
* Tell them to get over it
* Judge them for not being able to get over it
* Worry about saying the wrong thing

* Tell them you’re there for them

It may feel like a meaningless gesture, and they may never take you up on a long chat or a shoulder upon which to cry. But knowing you know and are comfortable with waiting for them to work through it is often enough of a light at the end of the tunnel to get them through.

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