“What have you got to be depressed about?”, “Your life is fine”, “People won’t like being around you if you’re always depressed”, “You should just try and be more positive”, “There are people starving in Africa”, “If you don’t like being alive, then don’t but at least shut up about it”.
Fun fact about the international man of mystery behind TTB; I’ve attempted suicide six times since 2013. Multiple diagnoses from doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists have all come to the stunning conclusion of; “You sure are one depressed person”. One of the more noticeable things about suicidal depression is that the general reaction from people follows a very distinct pattern; people care, people offer to help, people realise what that requires, people back the fuck out of there faster than a butcher at a vegan drum circle. It’s a particularly tricky situation; on one hand you can’t force people to help you and you shouldn’t guilt them into it if they’ve reneged on their original offer, on the other hand if you’ve been depressed for a long time a reneging can do even more damage than a flat out refusal.
I should reiterate that this isn’t designed to make people feel bad if they’ve offered to help someone and then had to pull back on that as a result, it obviously can seem like that’s the general idea thanks to the joy of tone being limited in the form of text. What I am trying to do is explain how seemingly benign statements or even statements that you might think will have a positive impact can often be worse than negative statements. Allow me to paint a picture; say you’ve entered into a discussion with someone who genuinely feels they have nothing to live for, a common response from people would be “yes you do, you’re just not noticing it.
It’s understandable that when we see a “sad” person we immediately head down the road of positive reinforcement but depression and sadness aren’t the same thing. I might say to a friend “Shit dude, I eat way too much junk food, I think I’m fat” and my friend will say “Nah man, you’re all good”, that sort of situation can work out just fine but let’s compare it to a more serious situation; “I’ve been forcing myself to throw up food because I find my body disgusting to look at” “You’re not fat, just be happy about your appearance”.
In a very general sense those two situations aren’t dissimilar; both involve a person concerned with their appearance, both involve a friend or acquaintance who tries to utilise positive reinforcement but you can probably tell that the person in the first scenario is less likely to head straight to the bathroom following that conversation and jam their fingers down their throat. Positive reinforcement can work just find for small situations, but when you’re dealing with a person with serious depression you can’t rely on something that only works on a micro-scale. The most obvious thing is this; if you know someone with legitimately serious depression then you should always encourage them to see a professional. Many people worry that if they admit their own weakness or openly suggest a professional their friend may react negatively and sometimes a person will react negatively but it’s still better than ignoring the problem.
If you’re worried about receiving a negative reaction there are some methods you can utilise to get the person talking and more comfortable before you suggest professional help; if a person laments that “my life is pointless” instead of denying them immediately and telling them they’re wrong, instead ask them why they feel that way and what they feel could help change that. It may seem like you’re encouraging their negative feelings but in truth you’re actually helping them set a goal to help pull them out of it. Similarly if a person admits to feeling unattractive don’t immediately squash the thought with a “no, you’re not ugly, you’re fine”, because it still keeps them in their negative pool. Instead try this “Okay, you feel that way. I don’t think you are ugly, but if you feel that way what do you think would make you feel better?” it mightn’t seem like a huge difference but it will at the very least get the person talking and once they feel more comfortable discussing it you can slide in “Well, have you thought about seeing a professional? Maybe they can advise you on ways to change your outlook”. This stuff likely seems simple, and it is but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. One of the trickiest issues for depressed people is that they’re so used to being shut out they immediately expect it to be a recurring theme, what that means is that if you open up the discussion they’re actually very likely to at least think about contemplating your advice.
You might be thinking, at this stage, that you should refrain helping anyone just to be sure you aren’t doing the wrong thing but that would likely be a bad idea. While it’s true you shouldn’t feel obliged to help, especially if you feel incapable or wary of making things worse, the best advice I can give is this; don’t agree to help if you can’t and if you do agree to help don’t back out on it, it may seem like an insurmountable task but your job is not to cure a person’s depression rather you should be looking to encourage them to take the next step in addressing the root issue and if you make the effort to do that the likelihood of the person asking for help making positive steps in the future is likely to increase.
Keep in mind this isn’t a crash course in turning yourself into a qualified psychologist, professional help should be recommended above all else. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or anxiety contact:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
In emergency’s contact:
Emergency services; Police and Ambulance.