I find myself shaking my head that I even feel the need to write this post. But apparently, though modern society has come to accept depression as a disease, modern man who has not experienced depression really has no concept of how to handle it when it’s present in others.
The word depression itself can be seen in many things. There are economic depressions. There are weather depressions. You depress a plunger into a clogged toilet. But clinically, while depression has many shapes and forms, it is categorized by a sense of melancholy and sadness. But being sad is not the same as being depressed. We all experience times of sadness – for example, the loss of a loved one or beloved pet – but the blues that envelope us at these times of sadness do eventually wane. Even multiple days of gloomy weather can cause sadness in some people.
There are multiple names given to differing depressions. Some are purely chemical in nature, caused by the brain, and can only be treated with medications. Some are more a sense of moodiness and loss of interest and unwillingness to participate in even daily living.
I’m sure I could research and write paragraph after paragraph about all of the forms of depression, all of the symptoms of depression, all of the treatments of depression.
The most common treatment for a person experiencing depression is psychotherapy. A trained professional engages the depressed person in “talk” sessions in order to determine if there exists a root problem that causes the symptoms and feelings. But some are unable – or maybe unwilling – to put those feelings out to another person. Some people have trouble expressing their emotions, fearing judgement or rejection. Others have been taught to believe that anyone with a mental dysfunction is “crazy”.
Even if you’ve never experienced depression, can we all agree that the people who do experience it don’t want to? Who wants to feel lethargic, moody, uninterested in being around their loved ones (just a few of the symptoms)?
Some of us more seasoned depressives (mine dates back to onset in my college days) have been through all of the psychiatry and psychotherapy steps (sometimes more than once!). The best we can hope for is to understand the feelings and symptoms, acknowledge them and let them run their course. In a sense, it’s like having a really bad case of the flu…there is nothing to do except try to ease the symptoms and acknowledge that, with time (and maybe a change in the constant gloomy weather), we’ll pick ourselves up by our boot straps and get back to living life. And while we may not feel the need to get (back) into psychotherapy, we may be seasoned enough to be okay letting others know that we’re feeling depressed.
And this, my readers, is where my title fits in. Depression IS a disease, but it is NOT contagious! You can’t catch it from a depressed person just by being with them. But what you can do, if someone is brave enough to share these vulnerable feelings, is ask what you might be able to do for them. Helping them – whether asking if they’d like to talk about it, or maybe offering to take them out to eat to get them outside of themselves, however temporarily, or a text simply asking them how they’re feeling, maybe a funny joke or meme shared across social media – all of these will give them moments of respite from being inside themselves. But, it’s important that you give this your attention, as much as if it were a physical trauma. Don’t offer ‘advice’ – things you think they should try or do. Don’t simply say something like, “Gee, I hope you feel better soon” or, worse yet, completely ignore the experience. And perhaps worst, don’t tell them to “get over it”! If someone is courageous enough to share with you that they are having “mental problems”, don’t disregard that they are suffering, even if you can’t physically see it. Be present and be honored that they trust you enough to not fear judgement or rejection. And keep being present. You may be the only link they have to normalcy at a time when everything is abnormal.