Nan Dickie

Column: Advice is not the answer

It would be wonderful if those of us who experience episodes of depression could be healed by our well-meaning and loving friends and family members offering, “All you have to do is….”

The suggestions are sincere, and by following through one or two of them, a depressed person may find some temporary relief—for instance by going for a walk in fresh air, or going to a movie. However, to believe that one can end a depressive episode by exercising, pursuing a goal, or being distracted for a time, is unfortunately unfounded.

These activities and pursuits may be helpful for a time, but do not address the underlying reasons that someone is depressed. Nor do they resolve those issues.

People who experience recurring episodes of depression often harbour a deep sense of shame, which is worsened by the stigma they face.

As well, they may feel that they aren’t worth anything. Someone told me she felt she was taking up some valuable space on earth that someone worthwhile could occupy. That is how despondent and useless one can feel.

When one is trapped in the grips of “the black dog,” it’s easy for one to say “Why bother? It won’t make any difference if I try something. It won’t work.” It’s true, it often doesn’t.

What makes it even more difficult is that even if a depressed person decides to try something deemed constructive, their physical and mental energy may be so low that the most they can do is to reach the sidewalk from the inside of their home in attempting a walk.

Furthermore, they may not want to be seen by other people at all, as they assume others will see them as they see themselves—worthless, undeserving, even poisonous. Their isolation from others, including family and friends, only heightens these feelings.

Given all these distressing realities, what can we do to help those who are depressed other than giving advice?

I can ask a depressed friend is she would like to go for a walk with me, or to go to a movie with me.

I can take him to a restaurant for a nutritious meal. (Many depressed people don’t bother eating well.)

We can tell our depressed family member that we care, that we are sorry they he is now ill, and that, believe it or not, he will come out on the other side of this hell.

We can listen to her without judgment or advice.

All that we, as supporters, “have to do” is show compassion, be there for our depressed friend, stand beside her, and let him know that he is a worthwhile and important human being.

Those are the only have to’s in this situation.

-Nan Dickie is the facilitator of a peer-led depression support group in Salmon Arm.

Meetings are held the first and third Mondays at Askew’s Uptown community room at noon. Everyone, including supporters, welcome. Info: ndickie@telus.net; 250 832-3733.

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