Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Word for Carers of People With Depression

A word for you; for carers and others:

This article is intended for carers, friends, family members or other significant people of those who are experiencing problems with Depression.

As a carer, a family member or somebody who is close to or who loves a person with depression, it can be frustrating to say the least as to know what to do about the situation. You may feel mentally exhausted and/or perhaps physically, spiritually drained or perhaps in any other way and just not know what you can do or where to turn. You might be exhausted of ideas or maybe wonder why the person with depression just doesn't get better or show signs of getting better. What does depression feel like? What does it feel like for those suffering it and what does it feel like for carers and others? Well, this is a very personal feeling and unique to every individual. However, as a carer or other significant person, you may ask "but, what about MY feelings"? Or perhaps you may feel that you've tried everything and yet the person you are caring for is still in the rut of depression. Maybe you feel frustrated, irritated, annoyed, or maybe even angry about the situation. As a carer or somebody significant to the person with depression, you will likely play a huge or significant role in their recovery (remember that there are good treatments for depression), but yet it may certainly not feel like it or it could be a long, long time before you start seeing any 'fruit' or results of your work and efforts. As a carer or significant person, your feelings are also important and deserve to be validated, although in saying this it is worth talking a little about walking in the shoes of somebody with depression as if you can develop sincere empathy it can go a long way towards understanding the situation and in reducing a bit of distress for you as a carer or somebody else significant to the person experiencing depression.

This article is not proposed to be anything spectacular or enlightening and indeed it is not intended to offer any 'quick-fix solutions' or to minimise or exaggerate the reality of depression, and this article may be common knowledge to many people, but the intention is to mention a few things which can help in dealing with living with depression such as developing and practicing true empathy and accepting people unconditionally. There may be more to these aspects than originally meets the eye. The idea with this article is to try to encourage carers or significant others of those with depression to adopt a true empathic attitude towards the person who is battling with depression and to accept them for who and where they are at this point in their lives.

True empathy is not easy to achieve. Empathy has different components to sympathy and empathy can be a real 'skill' to master or achieve. Empathy involves seeing the subjective world from a person's point of view who has depression. A person with depression is not their 'normal' selves and therefore many things in their life can seem bleak or totally useless, pointless or hopeless (among many other ideas, thoughts and feelings). What can YOU do? One thing you can do is to develop true empathy. But, how? There are several elements to this and seeing things the way the other person does can be a real challenge. As carers or significant others, you may rightfully or justifiably know how to help or think you can help if they would just listen to you. For example, you may have told a person with depression a thousand times to talk to a counsellor, to join a support group, to exercise, to go for a walk or whatever and you justifiably think that the person would benefit, and yes, they probably would. However, the point here is to try to see and feel things as the person with depression does. Personally speaking, I remember from my own experience with a Major Depressive Disorder and looking back on it now I wonder how I could have ever sat on the veranda all day staring at nothing and smoking cigarettes, but at the time it seemed all I was capable of doing. We know that exercise has its benefits along with many other things that a person with depression 'can' do, yet in the midst of depression even reading a simple birthday card can literally take an enormous effort. Depression is a sickness, it is NOT an imaginary syndrome or where somebody is indulgent just in self-pity alone. Self-pity may be a part of particular problems in life, but depression has its own set of symptoms such as loss of hope and this is different to self-pity.

One may argue that we have choices and yes we do, and choices can influence how we feel, yet depression is a medical disorder and not just something in the mind. Brain imagery proves such things. A point here is that as somebody who wants to help somebody else with depression, you may very well have some ideas, but forcing these ideas may be counter-productive. Empathy can be a huge asset in supporting somebody with depression and empathy goes hand-in-hand with understanding as best we can. To understand can foster empathy. Understanding, acceptance, empathy and sympathy are all different. Understanding one's problems may not entail demonstrating true empathy. We can understand signs and symptoms of depression and try to give advice or suggestions to the person with depression, yet still not see the subjective, unique and individual world of the person with depression. If a person feels as though somebody can truly empathize with them, it can be a huge asset in facing, overcoming or beating symptoms of depression. Validation can be very powerful. To feel heard and acknowledged can lift a huge weight off the shoulders of somebody with depression. The last thing a person with depression needs to hear are comments such as "why don't you just do something, go for a walk, try a new hobby, something.....!" In the best intention and by the goodness of your heart you may be trying to help, but perhaps other things may be more useful to say such as:

* "Tell me how you are feeling, I'll listen".
* "I love you no matter what".
* "I won't leave you".
* "I don't expect you to suddenly get better".
* "I am by your side, here with you. You are not alone".
* "Things seem pretty tough for you just now and I can try to imagine what it must be like"
* "You are not weird or lazy or anything. I understand that this is medical problem that anybody can get"
* "I believe in you".

Validation, listening and empathy can be a great friend in the lonely and frustrating times of depression. Try to empathise with the person you love or care for. It is NOT to say to get bound-up in pity, but to validate the person even though you may be able to see that what they are doing (perhaps nothing) is not working for them or getting them anywhere.

Depression actually has a good prognosis (likelihood of recovery) in that most people recover. Yes, some perhaps (or do) relapse, but depression may not necessarily hinder a person or incapacitate them for life. Depression can pass.. Bear the pain and ride the pain together with the person you love or care for. A listening ear can be so reassuring even if we don't have answers. Sometimes a person just wants to be heard, listened to, validated. You may not feel as though you are helping at all, and only realise years down the track how much support you were to that person. True empathy is riding the waves together, going up mountains and down into valleys in life together and 'feeling' things as the other person does. We can obviously only do what is humanly possible, but empathy through a non-critical ear can be a cornerstone of one's sense of self and a part of one's recovery of depression.

Empathy also involves discarding your own philosophies and beliefs and adopting those of the other person in order to see their situation through THEIR eyes. It DOESN'T mean that you have to change yourself, but when the other person feels heard, they often feel validated and they can feel empathy from YOU. Well, we might be able to show or demonstrate empathy yet still feel like we are going around in circles or stuck in some sort of rut or maybe it may all seem a bit like feeling pity for the person. What can we do though if nothing is happening? Focus on the positives. Positives can come from almost any situation (or arguably from any situation) and hence the proverb 'every cloud has a silver lining'. Positives may not reveal themselves for a while though so focus on the here-and-now, the present and any little positives at all. Statements including "you should", "you ought to", "why do you...?" and so-forth will not sound very positive to a person with depression. It is not easy though to always identify positives in a situation where somebody has depression. However, the simplest of tasks such as answering the telephone or even still being alive can be seen as positives (although a person in the midst of depression may not agree with such things or see things in such ways). As a carer or significant other (person) what can be some positives? Well, the person with depression may not have committed a crime, or perhaps be drunk today, or have taken their medication or is not going to kill themselves today (plans/thoughts) among many other hypothetical situations. It is normal to focus or think or concentrate on negatives such as a parent who is on the lookout for a child's bad behaviour and forgetting or not acknowledging when the child is good. We can get bound up in the symptoms or problems of depression and sometimes not acknowledge the simplest of positives. Life is not falling down, it is staying down. All of us have falls or maybe only stumbles. We can recover from a fall of depression. It takes time and people to listen, acknowledge, show empathy and focus on positives which can aid a lot in the management of depression.

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