How You Can Best Help Those Dealing With Depression During the Holidays

12/13/2017 04:32 pm ET
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How can we best help others who may be coping with depression during the holidays? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Anita Sanz, psychologist, on Quora:

Depression is one of the “invisible illnesses,” which can be baffling to those with no personal experience with it. The depressed person may look fine or appear to be functioning fairly well from the outside looking in. But the reality on the inside can be quite different and very hard for someone with an invisible illness to adequately explain to others.

So, the first thing you need to do to help someone who is coping with depression at the holidays is to familiarize yourself with “Spoon Theory.” Until you can try to understand the unique challenges of managing depression while trying to face the normal daily tasks of living, you will not possibly be able to understand what it is like to manage all of the increased demands that the holidays can bring.

There are not more spoons provided to people with mental or physical health problems during the holidays. In fact, due to changes in schedules, the amount of available sunlight, and other demands, there may be even fewer spoons to start the day with.

Once you are familiar with Spoon Theory, you can more effectively work with a person with depression to find what will work well for them. It is best not to try to “think for them” or decide for them what they can or cannot do. Checking with them and finding out what is right and healthy for them to be doing at the holidays is important.

Doing things, being involved, being social, and participating in holiday events can all be stimulating to the brain and help with depression. But trying to do more than is possible can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and failure which can deepen depression. So, it’s important to find ways to involve a person with depression at the holidays, but not overwhelm them. You cannot find what that perfect balance is unless you are working with that person to find what works for them.

You also want to communicate that you understand they may have to say no to some things or won’t know until the last minute if they have the energy or ability to participate in some things and that this is okay. Often, people managing depression say no or decline invitations simply because they cannot guess how much energy they will have at the time of the event and they dislike “no-showing.” If given an option of “show if you can,” they may be able to do so.

Remember that what sounds like a “fun” activity to you may not be for someone with depression, due to the lack of available emotional or physical energy. What seems reasonable to be able to expect from someone without depression may be completely unrealistic for someone with depression.

In essence, you can help the most by helping to decrease unrealistic expectations through educating yourself, working with the person with depression to find what will work for them at this time, and by understanding that their temporary limitations are real.

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