Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Depression: The Best Advice Requires Understanding

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I've been dealing with Depression quite severely since my divorce finalized in September. In that time I have made great progress in gaining control again, but not as quickly as some would prefer. I wanted to write a bit about that today. Perhaps you deal with the same impatience in your own life.

Several friends, family members & church leaders believe my recovery is simply too slow. Their concern to see me happy and well adjusted outpaces their ability to provide adequate comfort. It's been eight months already, they think. He can't afford to keep going on this way. He's got to pull it together.

In many ways they are correct. It would be far better for me to be happy and gainfully employed than to be sad all the time. If only I could make Depression go away with the snap of my fingers. With the same snap of my fingers, I'd give myself a job. It's as if I came home from the doctors with a diagnosis of appendicitis. "Oh," say the helpful ones. "so that's what's wrong with you! You should be able to get out and work now."

If only it was that easy. Would you say to somebody "Well, buck up, me lad. It's only appendicitis!"? Yet when dealing with mental health issues, this is usually the type of advice I get. I wonder how poor my advice to others has been over the years. Has it been as pressuring and useless? Have I not taken time out to understand their issues before proclaiming I have the solution? It is something to consider.

How Can I Give a Depressed Friend Good Advice?

It seems the first and most important component when giving good advice is to understand the problem. Being impatient with the affected person doesn't help them get out of your hair any faster. Let's start with trying to understand why the clinically depressed can't just shrug it off and get busy.

I've come up with a new metaphor to help folks better understand Depression. As we process the events around us, the non-depressed mind acts as a traffic cop allowing only the appropriate responses to flow like cars going to and from their destinations. If the traffic cop perceives there's a traffic jam due to excessive sadness, he can alleviate the traffic flow by opening up a lane to humor, love, or a cute box of puppies.

The depressives' traffic cop, on the other hand, is buried under a black rock. One hand feebly tries to direct traffic, but it's pointed mostly towards that old, pot-holed, service road with no street lights. Humor, love, and boxes of puppies can help depressives, too, but only after the rock is lifted off of the cop. Otherwise, all life events seem to further feelings of sadness and paralysis.

Please try to understand that there is an obstacle in the way of our healthy, happy mental responses. It's called Depression, but it's a chemical imbalance that causes sadness outside of normal responses. Any solution that doesn't acknowledge this chemical imbalance is wasted on the listener. Yet so much advice I and others receive from non-depressives never acknowledges that black rock. They get frustrated with us and tell us to "shape up!", "snap out of it!", "shake it off!", and my new favorite "get your act together!!" Aye aye! Right away, sir! Now, tell me how.

Instead of telling them where they need to be, help them see the pathway to the destination. Any advice that skips over the process of moving that immensely heavy rock out of the way is a burden to the depressed. It adds to the rock's weight. Consider instead helping the depressed friend or family member to see that they aren't actually trapped. Then help them see multiple ways that they can move out from under that rock.

What Is the Best Advice To Give Somebody Who Is Depressed?

If you were really trying to dig a friend out from under the weight of a boulder, you wouldn't toss the debris up on top of the boulder, would you? Then why are you doing that to your depressed friends and family members? To borrow from your impatience, knock it off! Give them hope. Help lighten their burden. Don't add to it.

I try to remember these days that I can't give good advice until I understand the problem. Impatience only shuts people out. I also remind myself that my solutions aren't the best for everyone. Even if we suffer from Depression ourselves, we can't understand fully what the other person is experiencing because we aren't inside their head. Only patience and perseverance can guide us in giving more targeted advice that can actually be helpful. The advice I personally appreciate the most, and find most helpful, is advice that helps me believe in myself again and that helps me see the way out from under the Depression. It's usually not very far reaching advice–maybe only steps ahead of where I am at–but it gets me moving in the right direction: forward.

Thank you, folks, for your support and tips. Every little bit helps. It's tough out there for everyone, and I appreciate your sacrifice. I promise to keep writing, even through the toughest parts of Life2.0.