I am 20 (almost 21!) years old and I am living with bipolar depression. Now, before you say “how do you know? You’re just being dramatic”; I have seen multiple therapists, doctors, and currently a psychiatrist. I used to take anti-depressants and now I take mood stabilizers (although I liked the anti-depressants better). I have been living with this for a long time now — the earliest I can remember feeling actually depressed rather than just sad was probably 6th or 7th grade — so I have had people have a lot of different reactions and attitudes towards me and my situation.
Because of this, I wanted to give people who don’t know what depression feels like some insight as to what they can do (or not do) to help their loved ones who are dealing with it. It’s a terrible thing to go through alone, so my hope is that this can help people make others feel less alone.
1. It’s Not About You
Probably the most frustrating thing about dealing with depression (other than dealing with depression) is having people think that somehow my mental illness is about them. If you are a friend/family member/significant other of someone who is dealing with depression, do not assume that they are depressed because of you, or that you don’t make them happy. People with depression can still feel happiness, along with any other emotion.
I love my boyfriend and he makes me happy, but that doesn’t “solve” my depression, and THAT’S OKAY. There is usually a lot that goes into why someone is depressed, so don’t take it personally if you can’t make their depression disappear. Also, don’t take it personally if your loved one with depression doesn’t always want to hang out or talk to you. Try to be understanding of what their going through rather than being angry or upset that they may not be as present or social as you want them to be.
2. Depression Manifests In Many Ways
Generally when people think of “depression,” they think of someone being really sad and lethargic. However, that is only one very small aspect of depression, and it also doesn’t apply to everyone. “Depression” is kind of an umbrella term, and sometimes I wish we as a public heard more about all the different ways in which one can experience depression. For instance, I mentioned I have bipolar depression (the term “bipolar” is deeply misunderstood as well, but I won’t go into that).
For me, this means I am easily irritated and I can go from being happy to being at an incredible low without a moment’s notice. It can happen anywhere in any situation. It also means that I think about a lot of things really quickly, which is bad and can honestly be scary when I’m having a depressive episode, because it means that I’m thinking about a lot of bad things loudly (in my head) and quickly. There is more to how I experience my depression, but I won’t go into right now. Other people with depression may be angry, anxious, self-destructive, extremely stressed. They can be very social, but the whole time their with people, their thinking about how they’re doing everything wrong. Basically, don’t assume that someone is not depressed because they don’t fit the mold of what you think depression looks like.
3. Be Understanding Of What May Be Difficult For Them
Dealing with depression is hard. Very very hard. It often makes it difficult to do regular everyday things. So, what doesn’t seem like a big deal to you may be a huge deal to someone living with depression. There was a time where I was going through a really rough patch with my depression and it was a struggle for me to just keep on living. I would wake up and think about how I didn’t want to do this anymore. It was terrible.
Everyday felt like I was drowning. So, sometimes I wouldn’t want to get out of bed or eat or talk to anyone. I’m sure many other people living with depression have felt like this at some point. It already feels incredibly shitty, and it doesn’t help to have people then say that we’re just being lazy or that we need to try harder (not to be depressed, I guess). For some people, the fact that they even made it through the day, even though they didn’t get out of bed, is an accomplishment.
4. Be There How They Need You To Be
Sometimes people just need someone to talk to, to cry to, to hug, to lay with, to watch tv with, to run an errand with, to laugh with. Sometimes they need someone not to be there physically, but to just be available; to have someone they can count on. I have a friend who lives in North Carolina (I’m in California) and we don’t talk everyday, but she’s available when I want/need to FaceTime and I can talk about anything or nothing at all with her. I don’t think she knows how much that means to me, especially at times when I’m going through an exceptionally rough period.
These are just some of the many things you can do to help your loved one. Try to talk to them to get a better understanding of what they’re dealing with and how you can help. Some people may not want to talk about it at first, because it is hard to talk about, so be patient and respectful.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.