The best description I ever heard about clinical depression was from a suffering friend who told me that he felt as if he was in a cave, chipping himself out with a teaspoon, little by little. You can never solve another person's problems; however, what you can do is be a support.
By active listening, offering time, unconditional love, and compassion, you signal to your friend or relative that you're there for him, no matter what, and that he can count on you to be there for the duration. This kind of reliability offers security and stability to a chaotic situation.
If you have a clinically-depressed loved one, here are some things you can do:
1. Ask your friend or family member what he needs from you, what you can do to help. Sometimes, you may be required to organize appointments, transportation, or even assist in changing living quarters or arranging for a caretaker.
2. Create boundaries that are necessary for you to comfortably stay engaged and stick to those boundaries, so that they become an accepted part of your relationship.
3. Be what you want to see. Whenever possible, try to model a stable lifestyle, with a regular schedule for eating, sleeping and personal hygiene.
4. Be a good listener. Many times just being there, listening actively, helps a depressed person feel valued, validated and reconnected to the world, through you.
5. Let your loved one know that he is not going through this alone, that you're there with him, that he is valuable to you, and that if he needs your help, you will be there, if possible.
6. Remember, you can't rescue someone, nor should you try to enable them. Don't play the blame game. Don't be judgmental. Depression is an illness and not to be taken personally.
In the final analysis, each person must find his or her own inner resource to heal. If you're a caretaker, it's easy to get drawn in to another person's life and lose your own, so stay vigilant, stay in touch with your friends, maintain your own routine, social engagements and appointments to avoid burnout. Also, keep the lines of communication open and honest, so that you don't build resentment from feelings that you suppress. And, if things get out of hand, always reach for professional help.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.