How to support a loved one who has anxiety or depression: 5 dos and the dont's
Dealing with my postpartum depression and anxiety was without a doubt one of the lowest times of my life. I felt ashamed, guilty, alone, and most of all afraid. When my symptoms began to worsen, I honestly didn't know where to go, or who to even talk to. I began with my primary doctor, but as I shared in a previous post that was the beginning of a much longer road to recovery.
A road that was difficult for me to manage, but was also very difficult for my loved ones. Looking back now, I can understand why. No one is "trained" on how to support someone walking a path of recovery - especially with depression and anxiety. The hardest part is much of what we do know about any mental illness is wrought with stigma and assumptions. As time progresses, I believe these assumptions and stereotypes are changing, but nonetheless it can be hard to be someone's support system. It's hard to know what to say and what not to say.
I was very lucky to have a strong and patient support system around me. Without Matt, my parents, and some very close family and friends I honestly don't know what I would have done. I do know that my journey to recovery would have been much longer than it was. Even now, almost four years later, the people who stood by me are still "my people" today. Somehow being completely vulnerable and leaning on them without reserve has led to some of the strongest relationships I have.
Even though I was lucky enough to strengthen many relationships, I did lose some very important people in my life. I still look back and wish that things would have turned out differently, but I believe God uses everything for our good, even if I can't see it completely now.
I'm sharing all this, because I want everyone to know that navigating anxiety and depression is hard, but supporting a person through a mental illness is hard too. Before I share some advice to all of the caretakers out there, I want to also share a piece of advice for anyone walking through a dark season. Friend, if you find yourself needing help, please do not be afraid to speak up - sooner than later. The sooner you seek help the easier it will be to recover. Talk to your people. Lean on them. Let them love you.
Ok, now onto my tips:
Top 5 "Dos:"
Just listen. I know that sounds so simple and it is. Sometimes, people don't want advice, or don't want to be told what to do. They just want to be heard.
Keep reaching out to your loved one. Sometimes when a person is walking through a hard season it's easier for them to distance themselves from everyone. They don't want to "bother" anyone. But, when you reach out, it keeps telling them that you care and that could help turn a really bad day around.
Send words of encouragement. One of the biggest blessings I received when I was struggling was cards in the mail from loved ones - particularly my sister-in-law, Michelle. She took the time to write out quotes and scriptures of encouragement. It was the perfect thing for me meditate on when I needed encouragement. There's also something about receiving a hand-written note. You can feel the love sent with it. They are just so much more personal.
During any hard season in life a healthy lifestyle is likely to go out the window. Drop off a healthy meal. This will be one less thing for the person to worry about.
Finally, be patient. Everyone will be on a different timeline and journey and unfortunately it's not one that can be rushed. For me, it took me a good six months to feel back to "somewhat normal," and I still experience some days that are hard.
Top 5 "Don'ts":
Abandon them - even if they are hard to be around. I know this might seem obvious, but it does happen. Sometimes it can feel like your loved one doesn't love you anymore and that's most likely not the case. They are sick with an illness. They just might need space, but always let them know you're still there.
Compare their situation to others. It was always hard for me to hear about someone else's situation that turned around faster than mine. It made me feel like something was wrong with me because it was "taking me too long" to get better. I also didn't like hearing stories of others who were worse than me. It scared me and made me sad all at the same time.
Tell other people (unless you’re worried for their safety). The person is trusting you. Do not break that trust.
Diminish how they are feeling. If you have never walked a path of depression or anxiety it may be hard to understand why they are feeling that way and it may even seem a bit silly. Just listen and love them through it.
Don't forget that they are the same person that you always knew and loved - they are just going through something hard. Give them time and keep loving them.
I know everyone's different and I'm sharing based on my personal journey, but I truly pray that these tips will help families and patients who are walking this path together. It can be hard and heartbreaking, but I want to encourage you that when you get to the other side there just may be beauty there that wasn't before.
Blessings to you and your family,
Three items I'm grateful for:
- Matt: his patience, loyalty, and love are never ending.
- My parents: for not judging me and picking me up when I needed them.
- My support system - a big shout out to Michelle, Karina, Laura, Abbie, and Shar Bear. Thank you for loving me then and now.