Ways to support a suffering loved one

While you can’t cure a friend’s depression, you can help him or her through it.

The question:
What can you do for a friend or relative who has depression?

It’s hard to watch a loved one suffer. Whether it’s depression or any another debilitating illness that saps the life force of a person, one cannot help but feel powerless. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between what you can and cannot do.

What you cannot do: Major Depressive Disorder is a legitimate illness of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to treat a friend’s diabetes, you cannot cure his or her depression. For many people, this can be hard to accept. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do or say to lift the clouds. Tough love will not motivate your friend. If anything, it may make him or her feel worse. Although you may strongly encourage your loved one to seek treatment, you cannot make that person go, nor can you make him or her take medication.

That being said, there are some things you can do to help:

 Encourage him or her to seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional. You can research therapists and collect contact information, but the person suffering should make the initial call to set up the consultation, as his or her investment in the process will affect the outcome of treatment.

 Be a good friend and stay in touch. Though you may feel inclined to distance yourself, your withdrawal may actually accentuate his or her feelings of isolation common to depression.

 Ask your friend if he or she is feeling suicidal. If he or she says “yes,” take your friend to an emergency room or call 911 on his or her behalf. If your friend indicates a definitive plan and easy access to weapons and/or potentially lethal drugs, you should definitely call. If he or she admits to having fleeting suicidal thoughts but does not plan to act on them, you can 1) encourage the person to share this with a therapist; and 2) give him or her the number for the suicide hotline in case the depression deepens (1-800-SUICIDE) while continuing to watch for changes in behavior.
 Be compassionate. We’ve all had our dark times; some are worse than others.

After my last column, I received an email from Kitty Dukakis, the wife of former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. She pointed out that in my last column, I did not mention the effectiveness of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in alleviating depression. While she is correct — ECT has been proven effective in treating chronic, pervasive depression that is unresponsive to therapy and medication — it is usually considered a treatment of last resort, and consequently was not necessarily appropriate to suggest to the questionably depressed gentleman who lost his job.

Set boundaries

   
While being a good friend, continue to take care of yourself. Spending prolonged time, especially living with, a person who is depressed can be very emotionally draining. Take time to do activities you enjoy and remember what is within and not within your power to change.

– Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private
practice in New York City. This column is not intended to be used as a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist to be held liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have any concerns related to the content of this column, please make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. E-mail Kim your questions at askkim@metro.us.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.