I’m dreading spending time with someone with depression – what should I do?
The images of ‘perfect’ Christmases and the expectations that people feel they need to live up to can be difficult for all of us. For someone with depression the gap between those and reality will be even larger. That’s why depression, or loneliness, at Christmas can feel so much worse. So here are some do’s and don’ts for spending time at Christmas with someone with depression.
Do spend time with them. Don’t avoid them, or tell yourself that you’re giving them some space. Wherever possible go and see them – sit with them, and spend time with them. And if you have to phone them instead then make proper time for it – a distracted conversation while you drive somewhere or load the washing machine isn’t going to help their mood.
Don’t criticise them for being negative. Don’t try and tell someone who’s depressed to ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘count their blessings’. Telling them that there are other people who are worse off might be meant well, but it just downplays the distress that they’re in. Don’t try and reason someone out of a depression – you can’t have a rational argument about emotional reasoning. Instead you might make them feel more isolated.
Do offer support, but don’t offer advice. Enough sleep, a healthy diet, and physical activity are the essential requirements to help tackle low mood. You can support someone with depression, and ask them what they think would help. Telling them what they need to do instead is much less likely to work than letting them develop their own ideas.
Don’t let them feel unvalued. This has run through the last three points – not avoiding them, not criticising them and not telling them what they need to be doing. It also means not comparing them to other people. Talking about your own, or another person’s, experience of depression might be meant as a way of introducing ideas. However, to someone with depression this can feel like their pain is being trivialised.
Do look after yourself. Spending time with someone who’s depressed can take a lot of energy – physical, mental, and emotional. Make sure that you put yourself in the best frame of mind before you go, and make sure that you have any support that you need. It takes patience to be with someone who’s depressed, and you need to make sure that you have the energy for that.
Don’t make it just about Christmas. Christmas can magnify the effects of depression, and throw them into stark relief. Seeing someone with depression then can be a real boost – but the effects of depression can be terrible at any time of year. Make the time you spend, or the contact you have with that person, become a regular thing. You might be helping them more than you know.