One of the biggest misconceptions is that when a person with depression speaks to you they are looking for some deep, meaningful help to cure their problem.
People who struggle with true depression (rather than a period of feeling a bit sad or down) understand better than most that there is rarely an easy fix or quick cure for their problem.
Robin Williams’ death yesterday makes this stark reality ever more clear, especially as he clearly had access to more than average professional help.
The problem is that our reaction to stories like yesterday prompt us to think response, “Well if professionals can’t help, I sure as hell can’t either!”
That assumption is flawed. It is based on cure, a solution to the problem being the desired outcome of our interaction.That is rarely if ever the expectation of the person with depression.
To be told, “I can’t help you!” is crippling as it closes the door to any conversation or potential forward movement.
Just stop & ask yourself, “If this person knows the problems of their illness, why are they asking me?” & therein lies the clue.
When a person with depression speaks to someone else or asks for advice, they have already made themselves vulnerable & trust you to be able to help. I’ll repeat that in fewer words, They ask you because they trust you.
For all of its complexities, problems & tragic stories, there are many more where the simple act of listening, spending time with a person & giving an honest response has averted a tragedy, has restored hope, has offered a helping hand, has provided support, has made someone feel valued, has made someone feel listened to, has made someone feel as if they are human & matter.
Why should we let our opinions deny people the opportunity of help before we’ve tried?
Why should we deny people the opportunity to move forward by making the dangerous assumption that we can’t help them or assuming we are ill-equipped to have any meaningful or useful input?
Surely, the best start is give them a chance. Let them hear what we have to say & let them decide whether we’ve helped or not.
If you really want to catapult someone with depression into an abyss, tell them you can’t help them when they take the risk of talking to you or asking for help or tell them there are many others better qualified than you to help or tell them they’d be better-off talking to their doctor. As accurate as this last statement may be, they may not have the time to wait until their doctor is free.
This isn’t a call for us all to don our white coats & play doctors, nurses or psychologists. Medical professionals have their important role to play.
This isn’t an excuse to go barging in, unasked, with our opinions & advice, which can be equally devastating as offering no help at all.
But it is a call for us to be aware that we never really know whether, how, when or where we can help unless we give it a go.
We can play our part too & often the best thing we can do when someone takes the risk to speak to us or ask for help, is to honour that, give them a listening ear & see what happens.
It may not work every time but I would much rather give it a chance & not see any apparent change than give it no chance when I may be exactly the person to help at that time in that situation.
We need more openness to depression & mental illness in general. For the sufferer it is a daily fight with potentially dire, even terminal consequences.
Sadly, it’s only when the high-profile, public figures are affected that the rest of us are prompted to ponder & perhaps even respond.
So give yourself chance to make a difference when someone takes the risk of speaking to you.
Take care until next time …