Recent statistics say that 19 million people suffer from chronic depression. 2 million of those are children. Chances are you know someone struggling with depression but you might not realize it. If you are like me, when someone I know struggles with a mood disorder I stay “away” thinking it’s “best to let them recover alone”, and “they’ll snap out of it sometime” — I’ll just wait for that to happen, yeah that’s what i’ll do, I think to myself. Why, I wonder, do we treat people with mood disorders differently from someone suffering from a medical problem? The answer seems obvious to me: The stigma of mental dis-ease is still alive and well. Overcoming this stigma for the person struggling is hard enough. As a friend or family person, don’t fall into the trap of ignoring their plight since this will only feed into the already stigmatized disorder.
So what are some ways to avoid making the ill person feel even worse? I like to start with the “people are people” motto and simply treat the person with dignity and respect. If they had foot surgery what would you do? How would you act? Maybe call them? Send a card? Yes! Yes! Absolutely you would! Where we can get confused is when we think about the person having mental illness. It is not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable discussing it or even knowing someone with mental illness.
The most helpful thing you can do is NOT to treat the person differently. Get educated about the illness and get over your uncomfortable feelings and do the right thing. What is “the right thing” you might be wondering? My expert friend, Joan, has a unique perspective to share with people looking to communcate with those struggling with Mental dis-ease.
Joan is 78 years old and considers herself the “Queen of Depression”. She has taught me a lot about this subject. As a child she lived with a mother who was clinically depressed for almost her entire childhood. Then her own clinical depression in adulthood followed by dealing with a son who has schizoaffective disorder. In between all of this she was able to stay married to the same man, participate in local politics and raise a brood of 9! Joan has an uncanny ability to notice when other people need something. She says or does “just the right thing” at the appropriate time. Her caregiver and nursing type capabilities seem to come naturally and we are all the more nurtured for them.
As you might imagine, Joan’s opinion is invaluable since she has the perspective of a child living with someone’s mental illness, as an adult going through her own bout with clinical depression, and as the mother of a son who struggles with schizoaffective disorder. Joan is the “go to” person to assist family, friends and others how to effectively communicate with people and do the right thing. She is sort of an all around Miss Manners with an emphasis on dealing with people who are struggling with mood disorders. Recently, I asked Joan to share her wisdom on how I should help my friend who is suffering from serious depression and anxiety disorder. I wanted to know what to “do” to make things better.
Joan is quick to point out that her recommendations are perhaps simply good manners and good friendship. Separating the “dos” and “don’ts” from those with and without mood disorders may be missing the point. According to Joan, as human beings we suffer at times. Whether we are clinically diagnosed as having “x” disorder is not the important thing but rather the fact that you are reaching out to someone you love during tough times. Joan recommends two simple but powerful methods for communicating with the person recovering.
1. First of all, don’t ignore the person. They need to hear from you. Calling and/or writing a quick note is always a good bet. Joan feels that calling the person is the first thing you should do. Simply say “I was thinking of you and hope you are doing well”. The phone call doesn’t have to be long or profound. A simple “Hi” will go a long way.
2. Offer to do something for the person. For example, if kids are involved you might say, “I’d like to do something — can I take the kids to dance class on Thursday?” or “I’d like to make you a little something for dinner. How would this Wednesday be? I’ll drop it off say around 5 PM if that’s ok.
The idea behind making specific suggestions is often overlooked. Joan strongly advises that you be specific about what you will do and put a date and time to it. Simply saying to the person “call if you need anything” is not the way to go. Be specific and follow-through. These are two simple but powerful suggestions! Thanks, Joan.
By the way, Joan is also my mother. I love you mom!