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With Robin Williams’s tragic death to depression recently, there is one again much interest in the subject. It is probably one of the most misunderstood diseases of all, with some people still believing that all depression patients need to do to cure themselves is to ‘harden up’ or ‘take it easy’.
More and more evidence is piling up that depression is a psychological illness that can afflict anybody, regardless of how ‘tough’ you are. Yes, there are some occupations that are more at risk – like sports and celebrities – but in a general sense, it doesn’t discriminate.
Here are five ways you can make a loved one’s battle with depression easier.
1. Say that you understand
Depression patients suffer from an acute sense of meaninglessness. They find that things in their life are devoid of meaning, and that all emotions – both positive and negative – are just passing phases. In some ways, depression patients are extreme nihilists, for whom life and the universe itself is meaningless. While there is a lot of rational evidence supporting this claim, believing it too passionately will suck the happiness out of daily life. When your friend talks of ‘nothing mattering’, therefore, don’t try to sell him or her a message of hope. Begin by agreeing with them.
2. Relate to them
Find ways to connect and relate with them. If they tell you that the walls are closing in, or that they’re feeling suicidal, tell them that it’s normal to feel suicidal sometimes. Give examples from your own life when you felt the way your friend is feeling. Stop short of giving advice on how you think they should get out of it, though. Most of all, your friend is looking for empathy, not for advice. Your best bet is to lend them your shoulder, and tell them that there’s nothing wrong with them.
3. Don’t give them a pep talk
A sports style pep talk usually involves a lot of positive reinforcement that things are in our control, that things will get better, that we must channel all the positive energy. This will not work on depression patients because they’ve convinced themselves that concepts such as good and bad are just ephemeral and it doesn’t matter whether things are good or bad. It’s not negativity that a depression patient feels. It’s emptiness. You cannot fight emptiness by promising that good things will happen. A depressed person just doesn’t care.
4. Tell them how much they mean to you
A common reason for depression patients feeling suicidal is because they think they don’t matter to anyone else. Because nothing matters to them, they think they don’t matter either. If your friend is suffering, therefore, it is important that you constantly reinforce – either by actions or by words – how much they mean to you. Try and do this in a calm, rational, unemotional manner. Tears and anger will only make it worse. Make them a nice cup of tea. Look into their eyes and whisper softly that you enjoy their company.

Daisy Akhtar

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