Being the support person for someone with depression is no cakewalk, either. I’ve been in that role as a wife, daughter, mother, and friend. When someone I love has depression, sometimes I think my loved one is going to end up getting well, and I am going to go crazy. My mind goes to questions such as What do I do when he won’t get out of bed? Should I bail my child out of this situation because she is mentally ill and couldn’t manage her behavior? When my friend cancels yet again on the date we had planned, at what point do I let go of the friendship?
When a Loved One Has Depression and You Are Going Crazy
- Take care of you. You absolutely must take care of yourself. Sleep. Exercise. Eat healthy food. Get out of the house and do things with friends. Make time for a hobby you enjoy, whether you think you have the time or not. For many years we cared for foster children. These children came from homes where crisis was the normal way of life. They would come into my home where a general sense of calm was present, and that was scary to them. So, they would create chaos. Chaos felt better because it’s what they knew. Our foster children would dig until they found my rawest wounds and then they would rub away with abandon. Even at the youngest ages they were experts at this. I had to get myself healthy and darn quick, or I wasn’t going to make it.
- Your loved one is in charge of himself or herself. NEVER MAKE IT YOUR JOB TO MAKE SOMEONE ELSE HAPPY. It’s not your responsibility, and you will never succeed. Even for our smallest children who need to heal, they have to take a level of ownership for their own healing and recovery. I provide every tool and resource available, most of all interceding in prayer for them constantly; but ultimately, I cannot be responsible for who they are as people.
- You are the support person, not the therapist. You can’t fix it, and it’s not your job to manage the condition. This is a tough one for me because as someone who has been through years of therapy to recover from my addiction, I am an advice-giver. I need to keep my mouth shut, though. No one wants to live with a know-it-all. People want to live with a supportive loved one who offers care and grace. Besides, my journey to wellness is going to be totally different from my family member’s journey.
- Own up to your own stuff. Ouch. It’s so easy to set ourselves up as the well person and the person with the mental illness as the sick person. We get self-righteous. I have fallen into this trap more times than I can count. Yet I’ve played my part in the hurtful words, immature behaviors, and negativity in the relationship. I can’t scapegoat all the problems onto one person.
- Depression whispers lies. As a wise doctor once told me, “Depression is a liar.” (See this article about the lies depression tells.) For years I have questioned what the person with a mental illness can and cannot control in his or her life. Is this the illness taking over, or can he or she control it? The answer is, it’s some of both. There are daily decisions that are within the person’s control. Yet I’ve also come to understand no person would choose the incredibly difficult life of mental illness. This isn’t a road a person would walk if he or she had a choice. Understanding this has given me more compassion.
- Recognize the anger involved. There is a whole lot of anger swirling in the dance of depression, both from the person who has it and from you. Let’s not pretend it isn’t there. It’s been said, “Depression is anger turned inward.” Okay, probably, but it’s turned outward too. I’ve had times where I couldn’t and wouldn’t get out of bed. I was sad and overwhelmed. I was also blasted ticked off at the whole world because life was not going my way. I was in the victim role and quite ready to stay there for awhile. If you are the support person of someone who is depressed and not coping with life, it’s normal to be angry because you are coping with all of the balls the depressed person is dropping. Who is caring for the kids? Who is taking care of the housework and bills? This needs to be brought out in the open and discussed (most likely with a therapist).
- Compassion doesn’t erase consequences. Compassion for the mental illness of a loved one creates understanding, but it doesn’t erase the consequences. Compassion does not mean saying, “Oh, he can’t help it, he has depression.” Far from it. When we take away the consequences, we tell the person he or she is less of a person and not strong enough to live like the rest of us in society. We show understanding and love, but we do not bend the rules or take away the consequences. At times this gets painful for us as the support people. It hurts to see our loved one go through the consequences of his or her behavior, and even further, it might affect us or our children. There are no easy answers here, but fixing it for the person with depression is not the answer.
- God is the Great Healer. There is always hope. Speak God’s word into the darkness. Write out Bible verses. Soak it in. Be with other Christians who will love you and remind you that you have the full armor of God. Mental illness is a physical condition, often with environmental triggers, but I also believe it is one tool of many that the enemy uses to pull us away from God’s light. The mental illness may be for a season or it may be for a lifetime. No matter what, God promises to never leave us or forsake us.
Have you ever dealt with depression? Has your family struggled with a member having a mental illness? What was helpful for you?