Have you ever had something ripped away from you so violently your head spins?
A high school friend called me today to ask a very serious question. A close friend of hers had been very recently diagnosed with depression, and is being put on medication within the week. What should she expect? She knows I have personal experience with this very scary situation.
I’m not going to go into what I think about the pharmaceuticals, nor am I going to go into the psychiatric drug culture. Sorry if you were looking for controversy. Personally, the entire arena of psychiatry is much too inundated with controversy. What psychiatry needs is a little more understanding, compassion. Hopefully these will lead to a gradual removal of the stigma.
How do you treat someone with depression? How does one act?
First, a reassurance: suicidal people are generally honest. If you ask them direct questions, like, “Do you ever think about killing yourself?” most people will be as straightforward as your question leads them to be.
Second, and logically, make her talk. Most of the time, just make small talk, and if something bigger needs to be said, it will happen. Every once and a while, force a question. This should be done sparingly, though. People need their space, especially if they are licking wounds.
Third, if somebody can’t get out of bed in the morning, what my mom would always do is ask me if I could get up to go for a walk. No school, no commitments, nothing. Just a walk around my neighborhood. Most of the time, I could muster this, and after walking for a little bit, I was good to go. Getting out of bed, taking that first step, is more than half the battle won already.
Fourth, “good endings make for good beginnings”. Rituals at night can help the next day start out right. Brush your teeth, actually put on pajamas, tidy your room, write in a journal, pack your bag. This is just a general life rule, as well. End one thing well, and the next adventure will be even better. Learn from what you just experienced in order to make the next experience even richer and more rewarding.
Fifth, be mindful of how you look at someone who is breaking. If someone is at a breaking point, and if the person is close enough to you, you will know…don’t stare. Don’t gape. When I was breaking, people would always look at me with this expression of pain and helplessness, their eyes all big. faces wide. Not moving. A person at her breaking point should be moving around, maybe mentally, maybe physically and so should the people surrounding her. Offer to get a drink, or a blanket, or a hug, or a hand. Do something. Don’t just sit there, staring. A depressed person needs to be surrounded by winners, not the perfect. So it’s fine if what you are offering isn’t the perfect thing to say or do. Doing something is enough.
Sixth, take care of yourself.
Seventh, medication is not a magic pill. At least initially, it is a stepping stone to get a person to the point where she can take care of the best medications. The best medications are good rest, a healthy diet, lots of exercise, good relationships with people and God, and counseling.
I mentioned head spinning and violence earlier, but I think I’ll tackle those monkeys tomorrow.