Living with depression is horrible. I’ve dealt with seasons of depression a number of times in my life. Depression is debilitating, frustrating, and overwhelming.
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?
Brandi Clevinger says
Number two is my biggest struggle. I have to remind myself of this daily because I feel as though I sometimes break my neck making that other person happy.
Sara @ The Holy Mess says
Thanks for sharing, Brandi! I agree, it’s so important we remember we have to allow the other person the space to be responsible for their own selves.
Tara Ulrich says
Sara, this is such a helpful post! My mom and my sister both live with a mental illness.
Sara Borgstede says
Hugs and love to you, Tara. Your role as support person to them is so important.
Thank you Sara. I walked a hard five year battle with depression and my sweet husband did everything he could think of to help me. It was heartbreaking to witness his helplessness. We learned so much and now counsel other couples who walk this journey.
Sara Borgstede says
I’m so glad you are doing better now, Shawna! Good for you for using your tough experience to be a help to others.
Wonderful advice, Sara. Our daughter was recently diagnosed as being bipolar (she had her first major manic episode whilst away at school in Argentina). She came back from Argentina doing well, but quickly fell into a deep depression. It took too long to diagnosis her, in my opinion–but we couldn’t tell if the root cause was depression, her eating disorder or what. To make a long story short, we’re relieved that she finally has a proper diagnosis but so sad about the consequences that she has to experience because of her manic actions–we know we can’t undo those consequences for her–and it’s good to see affirmation of that in your post today.
Sara Borgstede says
Oh, Anita, I wish I could reach through the computer and give you a huge ((HUG)). It’s so tough as a parent to see our children go through these things. It’s scary to face the unknowns — what consequences might still be there in the future, too? At least that’s how I feel. I continue to pray and trust God loves my children more than I do. I am there with you in understanding.
Anita, I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope her health care providers are able to manage her medication skillfully. I have friends with bipolar disorder and they live well when their medication is the right kind and dosage.
Melissa R says
Amen. I’ve been fighting depression for most of the last 30 years. Last year I finally found a doctor who has been able to manage it with medication. But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point without leaning heavily on the Lord or without the help of my family, friends, and pastor. I know it’s been hard on the people closest to me, especially because they feel helpless and, often, they just don’t understand what it’s like.
Sara Borgstede says
((HUGS)) Melissa. Thank you for sharing your experience. Thirty years is an incredibly long time to be living with depression! I agree that those of us who are support people cannot really understand what you are going through. It’s a bit baffling to those of us on the outside, to be honest. But we do love our family members and friends, and want to try to be a support in the best ways we can. Extend us grace that we are trying our best and mess up a lot of times. I’m glad you found a doctor and medications that are helping you now.
Bethany Magnie says
Depression is horrible! I’ve learned ways to cope with mine and it’s really hard to watch friends and family dealing with it without being drug back under myself. Foster kids are always a challenge, but I’m glad there are amazing people like you in the world to care for them. Growing up I had two foster brothers who had lots of emotional issues going on and learned to love lot’s deeper as a result. Thank you for posting! Speaking out about these things is making it easier for other people to open up, you have such a beautiful heart! Keep writing 🙂
Sara Borgstede says
Thanks so much for your kind words, Bethany. My husband and I have done our best but believe me, we are not saints. 🙂 We do some things right and get a lot of things wrong. We are thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness.
Christine Hawkins says
These are great tips. In fact I wish I knew most of these while I was going through depression. Depression is such a serious matter and it is horrible because when you are in that place you feel like no one understands. I have been there and it finally past. I finally found what makes me truly happy.
Sara Borgstede says
Thanks for the comment Christine. I’m really thankful to hear you are doing much better. You are able to relate to others and have much more compassion because of what you have been though. That is so helpful. Blessings.