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Being a relative of someone who is depressed is difficult. Many people have worn themselves out in worry and frustration over the illness of the person they love. Here you read a post from Kristian Hall about how to help someone with depression.

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Many parents, siblings, friends or girlfriends have worn themselves out in worry, grief and frustration over the illness of the person they love. It is important to realize that it is the depressed person who has to get out of the situation, not the relatives.

But what can you do if you want to help?


1. Understand what depression is and what it is not

I have previously written that being depressed is like coming from another planet. This is a lot of the reason why it feels so lonely to be depressed. 

The depressed person experiences that no one understands him. Since this is a disease that affects thoughts and emotions, many of the thought processes will be irrational (seen from the outside). 

For example, one will often find black paint in the depressed. If something negative happens, this will be experienced as EXTREMELY negative in the person struggling with depression. Even positive events will often be turned into something negative.

For example; the depressed person receives a birthday invitation (something positive), but later finds out that her invitation was sent a week after a friend received hers. This leads to even deeper depression, because this is perceived as a rejection.

Other common mental errors in the depressed are polarization (black and white thinking), overdramatization (to catastrophize things that are really trivial), personalization (taking the blame for things you can not control), disclaimer (the opposite; when you blame everything and everyone for things one is actually partly responsible for) as well as generalization ("no one will ever be able to love me"). 

Of course, those who struggle with depression do not think so for fun. A large part of the disease consists of not knowing that one is thinking unhealthily. And there lies some of the secret to how to get well - learning techniques to separate irrational thoughts from healthy ones (also known as cognitive behavioral therapy).

One must first understand the disease, to be able to help. The first thing you can do as a relative is to read up on the disease, understand what it does to the thoughts and feelings of the depressed person.

2. Cheer up - without fuss

When one is depressed, the will is sick. This is one of the main reasons why depression is such a tenacious disease. The patient may not even have the energy to get out of bed in the morning.

Getting rid of depression is like running a marathon - long and often painful. But also the happiness when you cross the finish line. Cheers can be very important when you are struggling up the steepest slopes. 

When fighting a depression, you have to win thousands of small battles against yourself. Getting out of bed, going for a walk, exercising, going into therapy, exercising to get better.

Being motivated by your surroundings to keep up this hard work can be the difference that makes you successful. I think this is perhaps the most important thing one can do for a depressed person.

But do not exaggerate, if you are perceived as too fussy, encouragement can quickly become a negative factor.

3. Facilitate mastery

Another important source of depression and hurt feelings for those who are depressed is the low experience of coping. You may not be able to go to school or work, and you notice that others around you feel better in most arenas (more money, more girlfriends, more children, better housing, a nicer car, better work, etc.).

It is extremely important to gradually build up a sense of mastery. And this is achieved by putting the list low at the beginning. So low that you are sure to succeed what you try.

Examples of this are joining the party, if only for an hour. Or going to school or work just for half a day. Or to go for a short walk every day.

4. Make demands, but not too high

Some of those who struggle with depression experience being treated as someone who is ill, where the environment treats them with silk gloves, and does not make demands on them as equal people. I think this is unfortunate, and something that can aggravate the disease.

For example, if you constantly avoid breaking agreements, you will have little incentive to change.

I think we should treat the sick as equals, but where one also takes care to make demands that are achievable, so as not to damage the feeling of mastery.

5. Pull the depressed person out for joyful activities

We know from research that many activities have major positive and measurable effects on health, energy levels and mood. Here are some of them: training and exercise, being in nature, dancing and singing, doing things that make you laugh.

All this is good for everyone, both healthy and sick. Thus, this is a win-win-win situation; you do something social, something that has positive health effects and something that is fun for everyone.

And these do not have to be elaborate activities, it is more than enough to take the depressed out for a walk in the neighborhood.

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