A message to those who have a loved one who is struggling with depression
Hello, my name is Linda Bjork. I’m the founder and executive director of Hope for Healing and I have a personal message for those who have a loved one who is struggling with depression.
And I share this message with feelings of great compassion and tender emotions, because I am a person who struggled with depression for a time, and I feel a great deal of remorse for the pain and suffering that I put my loved ones through. I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t thinking about them, I was consumed by my own grief and suffering and I didn’t realize that it was affecting other people. So I begin today with an apology, for myself and on behalf of your loved one who is struggling, because if he or she was in their right mind, they would feel great remorse for the suffering they are causing you. I have compassion for what you’re going through. I recognize that it is a great burden to bear. What you’re experiencing is stressful and difficult.
I’m going to share a few things that I hope will be helpful to you as you endure this challenge.
- First I’m going to share my story,
- I’m going to share a little about depression and how it affects a person
- I’ll also share some things we can do to overcome depression
- I’m going to share an analogy to help get a visual image to relate to the situation
- I’ll going to share some things that don’t help and some things that do help
I’ve been there and back again
Just for clarification, I want everyone to understand that nothing that I share with you can be considered medical advice, only a healthcare professional is qualified to do that, but I can share the unique perspective of a person who has been there and come back again.
So I’ll quickly share my story. All my life I’ve tried to be happy and optimistic and friendly, I never thought I’d ever have to deal with anything like depression or social anxiety, but life has a way of throwing things at you that you weren’t expecting. For me, I had a series of life events that flattened me. Everybody has problems, and you deal with them and go on, but sometimes there are things that just seem beyond our ability to bear, and that’s what happened with me. I was overcome with grief, sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. It was as if I had slid into a dark pit that was so deep that no hope or happiness or sunlight could enter. There were no windows or doors in this deep pit of despair, and I couldn’t see any way out. It felt totally and completely hopeless. I thought that this was my new reality, this was as good as it was going to get, and the best I could do from this point on was to endure in misery for the rest of my life.
During this time, I could see a beautiful sunset, or hear a child’s laughter and feel absolutely nothing. Happiness doesn’t come from our circumstances, it comes from within and I was completely empty inside. This is not just an emotional issue, it occurs on a neurological and molecular level.
Scientific reasons behind feelings of depression
I’ll pause in my narrative for a moment and explain some of the scientific reasons for this. Depression is complex, but some practitioners classify depression into two broad types:
- Endogenous (or chemical) depression which is thought to reflect some kind of “chemical imbalance” in the brain.
- Exogenous (or external) depression which is thought to arise from an external cause like a traumatic life experience, or stress. Some physicians believe that depression arises from a belief that we’re powerless to solve our problems.
Basically that means depression can start from internal chemical imbalances or external sources like stress, worry, discouragement, etc. or a combination of those.
Depression affects the chemistry of the brain
In my case, the initial cause was obviously exogenous, or externally caused by unpleasant life events coupled with a belief that I was powerless to solve my problems, but in all cases of depression, including those originally based in external causes, it becomes a chemical issue. Through MRI scans we have proof that changes in thinking can cause measurable changes in brain chemistry and function. Prolonged sadness and feelings of hopelessness create chemical changes in the brain.
Reward center of the brain
Let me explain that a little further. Our brains have a system of rewards that bring pleasure and help us feel good. There is a part of the brain that we call the “reward center”, and when we experience something pleasurable, there are neurotransmitters like dopamine which flood our neural pathways in the reward center and that makes us feel good. Those good feelings are created by a chemical reaction in the brain.
But our brains are instruments of balance, and we have another system that exerts a restraining force. This system, called the nociception modulatory system, is a key to how the brain modulates pain. The neurons in this system emit molecules called nociceptin. Nociceptin suppresses dopamine and shuts it down. If the brain is producing an abundance of nociceptin it neutralizes feelings of joy and happiness and restrains motivation.
Depression is not “just in your head”
The bottom line is that there is a valid neurological reason that a depressed person feels the way he or she does. It’s not just “in their head” or a simple case of needing to “snap out of it.” The problem is not just emotional, it takes place on a neurological and molecular level.
Natural processes can enhance depression
And there’s more. The natural processes of the brain make depression become progressively worse over time if it is not stopped. Let me explain.
There is a network of neurons located in the brain stem called the Reticular Activating System (or RAS) which is the gateway into the brain. All of the sensory information that we encounter first enters through the RAS which determines where to send it. The Reticular Activating System acts as a filter so we don’t become overwhelmed by an overload of information.
The job of the RAS is very important because it is estimated that the human brain takes in 11 million bits of information every second, but on average we’re only consciously aware of 40 bits of information per second. So when I say that the RAS filters information, I’m not talking about filtering out a little bit of information, I’m talking about a major filtration process reducing input from 11 million down to 40. It is the job of the RAS to decide what is important and what can be safely ignored. When the RAS is deficient, such as in cases of autism, ADD, and ADHD, too much information is allowed into the conscious mind and it causes a sensory overload and a difficulty in concentration and ability to focus. So the job of the RAS is very important to our safety, comfort, and functionality.
What is considered “important”?
However, the next question is, or should be, how does the RAS decide which information is important? It makes those decisions based on automatic programming that you and I created without even being aware of it. It is done on a subconscious level and is largely determined by what we focus on. If we spend a lot of time focusing on a particular thing, then the automatic subconscious programming of the RAS assumes that information must be important.
That’s why when you’re trying to buy a new car and have been researching a particular make and model, all of the sudden you start to notice that car everywhere. Or if you’re expecting a baby, all of a sudden you see pregnant women everywhere. The truth is that the cars and those expectant mothers were there all along, but the RAS considered that information to be something that was safe to ignore. However, now that you’re focusing on it, the RAS figures that it must be important so it points them out for you.
How this can make the problem worse
This normal and natural system of the RAS causes some problems when we’re dealing with mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self esteem. A person who is struggling with depression is often focused on thoughts like: my life is miserable, people would be better off without me, there is no hope, etc. A person who is struggling with feelings of low self esteem often has circulating thoughts like: I’m not good enough, nobody likes me, I’m a failure, etc. Because these are the predominant thought patterns, the RAS uses this as the basis for determining what is important.
This means that anything that doesn’t support those negative feelings are filtered out and the only information that enters the conscious are those things that support the depression, anxiety, low self esteem, failure mentality, etc. This strengthens and builds on the problem by continually adding “evidence” that the feelings of depression or low self esteem are valid, and the situation becomes progressively worse.
Furthermore, to add insult to injury, the feelings associated with depression have been shown to be addictive. They want to grow and they want to stay and they’re hard to get rid of.
The cards were stacked against me
So this is what was going on inside my head. I was in a dark place where I could not experience joy and it was awful. I could only see the negative in life and in myself. I had boatloads of evidence that supported my thoughts that there was no hope, people would be better off without me, and so on. I was miserable and I couldn’t see any way out. I felt hopeless and powerless and those are not good feelings.
Putting on a good face
Some people hide their depression and some people broadcast it in the hopes of gaining validation or sympathy from the outside. I was the kind who hid it and I hid it well. Very few people knew that I was dying on the inside because I made every effort to put on a good face. The one person who did know and was very concerned was my husband, and I’m sorry to say that I was not appreciative of his concern. I was angry at him for being able to see through my facade and I was angry at him for trying to fix me.
Remember that some physicians believe that depression arises from a belief that we’re powerless to solve our problems. A person with depression who is responding to that feeling of being powerless can take a couple different directions, one response is to fight it and the other is to embrace it, and unfortunately, neither of those options is pleasant for the loved one or caregiver.
Fighting the wrong battle
I fought it, but not in a healthy or helpful way. When my husband tried to fix me, it felt like he was saying, “You are weak and powerless, you can’t handle it, someone else needs to do it for you.” And because I was already feeling powerless and that was one of my greatest fears, I fought his help with all my might, because I was desperately trying to maintain a feeling of power, I wanted to feel that I had some control over my life.
So as a suggestion, when you’re trying to help a loved one who is struggling with depression, don’t try to fix them, and don’t try to take over and make it your problem. Help them feel empowered, by giving choices and expressing confidence in them, and make them be accountable for their own situation. We’ll talk more about that later.
Another possible response
Another way people might respond to that feeling of being powerless to solve our problems is to embrace that powerless mentality and expect everyone else to fix them and make all the decisions. I can’t do it. I’m helpless. Why try, there’s nothing I can do. And we’ll talk more about that later as well.
More pride than logic
So back to my story, I was struggling and my husband was researching about depression and he learned that light can help, so he bought me a light and I didn’t want to use it because that meant he was fixing me and I couldn’t do it myself. Then he’d buy me supplements and want me to take them, but I wouldn’t want to. I’m embarrassed to say that there was more pride than logic involved in my responses and I’m sorry about that now, but at the time, it made sense in my head.
A few things that did not work
Here’s a couple more things that didn’t work. My parents learned about my struggle and they meant well, but they didn’t have a clue. They thought it would be like flipping a light switch and if they just said the right magic word then suddenly I’d be all better. I just needed to snap out of it. So I heard helpful things like: you shouldn’t feel depressed. Oh thank you, good idea, now suddenly I’m all better. Just kidding, it doesn’t work like that.
Also reminding me of things that I should be grateful for, or telling me that I had no reason to be depressed did not help. My problem was not that I was blind or had lost my memory. Telling me how wonderful I was and trying to build me up was the worst thing of all. Compliments were excruciatingly painful. My mind rejected them as lies. I thought that either you were lying to me, or you were making fun of me, or that you were deceived by my playacting and that if you only knew the truth you would see that I was a fraud.
So what did work?
So the situation is frustrating and discouraging for everyone involved. So in my case, what did finally work, what made a difference?
A wake up call
There were two things that acted as a catalyst for change. The first was some tough love by my husband. He made me sit down and listen to him read an article about depression. He demanded that I admit to it and get help. He emphasized that couples with a depressed spouse are nine times more likely to divorce and ended with a threat that he had had enough and he was done.
I hated it. I hated every second of it. However, I kind of needed it. He held me accountable for my actions and awakened me to the possible consequences. Now, I did not magically change because he told me off, and I can’t say that’s the best way to do it, but after I escaped the room and had some time to think about what he said, it did have an effect. For example, I could no longer assume that my problem wasn’t affecting anybody else, because he made it quite clear that it was affecting him and he didn’t like it. I also had to think about the possible consequences. I could lose my marriage and my family and that was really scary. I realized how serious the consequences might be. It was a wake up call.
The other thing that acted as a catalyst for change was an invitation from my sister. She is trained as a mentor and life coach. She invited me, but did not force me, to attend a women’s retreat that she was hosting. I remember a phone conversation we had about it. I expressed some hesitation about attending and she didn’t try to force or guilt me into going. Instead she said, “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. This isn’t about supporting me, it’s about people who want to come and learn how to be happy and get more out of life. I would never force anybody to come.”
How can I describe the relief that coursed through my body at being given permission that I didn’t need to go. I had a choice. That’s what I needed to hear, although I didn’t know it until that moment.
Then she continued, “I’ll be teaching about tools that people can use to increase energy and happiness and how to achieve goals and experience the joy of success. It’s going to be awesome. Does that sound like something that you might like?” She had something of value to offer me, something I needed, and she gave me a choice.
Remember that some physicians believe that depression arises from a belief that we’re powerless to solve our problems. My sister’s invitation was empowering. Giving me a choice was empowering. Offering to teach me what I could do to become happy was empowering. She didn’t try to take over. She didn’t try to fix me. She showed trust and confidence in me. She believed in me, she believed that I could do something about my situation. And I trusted in her belief until I had enough confidence and success to believe in myself.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. She also held me accountable in every way and it was a long, painful process, but it worked. The process consists of a series of small positive action steps done consistently.
Let me explain a little bit about why that works. I mentioned earlier about the chemistry of the brain and the natural processes of the brain that may cause depression and keep us in depression. In order to get out of depression we need to successfully do two things: first, we need to alter the chemistry in our bodies and our brains, and second, we need to redirect the focus of the RAS or Reticular Activating System so that it doesn’t filter out all the positive and only allow discouragement, hopelessness, and depression inside. We need to change that automatic programming of our subconscious so that it allows positivity, happiness, and hope inside.
- first, we need to alter the chemistry in our bodies and our brains, and
- second, we need to redirect the focus of the RAS or Reticular Activating System to change the programs of our subconscious.
Let’s start with the chemistry of the brain. I already explained that there is a valid, physiological and chemical explanation for feelings of depression. It’s not just a matter of snapping out of it. This is why professional help and medication are so beneficial. But in addition to those options, it’s also possible for a person to create changes in their body chemistry by their actions. Through MRI scans we have proof that changes in thinking and behavior can cause measurable changes in brain chemistry and function. Let me repeat that, we can do things that alter the chemistry in our brains.
There’s a whole branch of science called epigenetics dedicated to research on how our attitudes and behaviors can positively or negatively affect our health. The new findings are great news because it means that we can change many things about the way we are, including our mental and emotional health. We have more power than you might think and that’s exciting.
I’ll give a quick example. You can increase confidence and boost mood in just 90 seconds by doing this one simple trick. Put your chin up, smile (even if you don’t feel like it). Pull your shoulders back, stand straight and tall with your hands relaxed at your sides or on your hips. Keep both feet pointing forward and keep weight even on both legs. Hold this position for 90 seconds.
Science shows that doing these things will not only make you appear more confident and happy; it actually makes you feel more confident and happy. Charles Darwin was actually the first to hypothesize that there is a connection between body language and our emotion that goes both ways. We smile when we feel good, but we also feel good when we smile.
Today that theory is called the facial feedback hypothesis and it has been verified in study after study after study. The physical expressions of our body language influence our emotional experience.
Even if you don’t feel like it, doing the actions will help increase those feelings. When we smile, even if it’s forced or fake, it stimulates the brain to increase the production of dopamine, which makes you feel good. When you lift your chin up and pull your shoulders back it stimulates the body to slightly increase the production of testosterone and lower the level of cortisol. These chemical changes give a boost of confidence and lower stress.
A sunrise, not a light switch
Our body language, our actions, our words, and our thoughts can affect the chemistry in our body which in turn affects the way that we feel. Don’t think that it will be easy or that a change will occur overnight. It won’t be like flipping on a lightswitch. It is gradual, like a sunrise, and requires small, consistent, positive action steps.
I want to offer you hope that things can get better. I started Hope for Healing to share tools, information, and a plan to help make these positive changes. We have free information, and free and low cost resources to help make these positive changes that will affect the chemistry in our brains which in turn affects the way that we feel. There is a way to become happy again. It isn’t easy, but it is possible.
Prepare for battle
Healing can be a battle. The process of working through emotional difficulties toward healing can actually feel worse for a period of time than it was when a person was just depressed. As a loved one and caregiver, this person is going to need your patience, love, confidence and support.
I’m going to share an analogy to give a deeper understanding of the challenge that you and your loved one are facing.
In the movie The Lord of the Rings directed by Peter Jackson and based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkein, King Theoden lives during perilous times and his people need him and his family needs him, but he is rendered useless for a time because he is under a spell. He doesn’t care about things that he should be caring about, like the wellbeing of his family or his people. He can’t think clearly or rationally. He is trapped until he is freed from the spell by Gandalf and he becomes his true self again.
We’re going to liken this story to dealing with depression. A person dealing with depression is not their true self; it’s like being under a spell that affects thinking and decision making.
Another example is in the show Stranger Things where Will Byers is taken over by the Shadow Monster or Mind Flayer. It’s a similar scenario, where a person is under the influence of a powerful force that makes it so they’re not their true selves.
I hope you’re familiar with at least one of these examples because they offer a lot of insight into living with depression and the experience of healing from depression.
Healing is a battle worth winning
In both of these stories, King Theoden’s release and Will’s exorcism, there is a great internal battle before they are free. Likewise, the process of working through emotional difficulties toward healing can actually feel worse for a period of time than it was when a person was just depressed. Healing can be a battle. And even though King Theoden and Will Byers will admit that the battle was hard, they would both agree afterwards it was worth it.
Part of the battle
Let me briefly explain why healing is a battle and what that feels like. Remember that I explained about the Reticular Activating System or RAS. It has a job to do and it takes its job seriously. When you are depressed, and the focus is on being miserable, discouraged, and hopeless, then the automatic programming of the RAS figures that these are the things that are important, so it filters out anything that isn’t miserable, hopeless, helpless, discouraging, etc. Furthermore, when we make a conscious effort to say or do something that is contrary to the current subconscious programming, the subconscious considers this a dangerous threat and sends out a warning that in order to be safe, you need to go back.
When that warning hits, it feels like running into an impenetrable wall, and people naturally give up. When I was going through this process, I hit that wall immediately and I wanted to give up on day one. It’s difficult to adequately describe, but it literally felt like I was going to die. I felt all the emotional and physiological symptoms as if my life was being threatened, and my subconscious warned me that the only safe option was to quit and go back. It was awful. Indescribably awful.
Emotional first aid kit to the rescue
Fortunately, I had been warned that this would happen so I knew what to do. To get through that wall I used one of the tools in my emotional first aid kit. An emotional first aid kit is a list of simple tools or actions that cause an immediate, although temporary, positive effect, like singing for example, and that’s what I did. I cranked up one of Shakira’s songs, called Try Anything from the movie Zootopia and sang along.
I’ll quickly explain why singing would help. Singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins which make you feel uplifted and happy. It helps relax muscle tension and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood stream. It can also help take your mind off your troubles to boost your mood. Research shows that our brain waves actually synchronize somewhat with the rhythm of the music which can calm us down or boost our energy and motivation depending on our need and the type of music we’re using.
In addition to these benefits, scientists have identified a tiny organ in the ear called the sacculus, which responds to the frequencies created by singing. The response creates an immediate sense of pleasure, regardless of what the singing sounds like so you don’t have to have an amazing voice to feel the positive effects of singing.
Participants in one study showed significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels after one month of simply adding singing to their daily routine. Listening to music and singing are powerful tools in our arsenal to fight against depression.
In my case, when I hit this wall, singing a song through once wasn’t enough, I had to repeat it three times before the feelings of panic that my life was in mortal danger subsided, and I knew I would survive.
The remedy is surprisingly simple, but it takes some courage to follow through. Remember that I was in a situation where I literally felt like my life was being threatened and that I was going to die and the correct response to those feelings was to sing a song?! That felt really counter intuitive.
Think about it for a minute, if you’re watching a movie and a monster is chasing somebody, they don’t jump out and sing a song, they hide or run away. If they sing a song, then the monster will find them and eat them, but if they hide or run away there’s a chance of escape. The natural response when you’re feeling threatened is to hide or run away. It takes courage to do something different. It gets easier when you’ve tried it a few times and know for yourself that it works, but it’s challenging, especially at first.
Most people don’t understand what is happening or why, they just know that their mind is telling them that they are in danger and need to turn back, so they give up.
The battle of working through walls is daunting, but another obstacle is getting started in the first place. Depression kills motivation and that is a great challenge indeed. A person cannot heal without their permission and their participation.
When the desire to heal is greater than the desire to stay the same, then healing can begin, but not before. This is not your battle. It is theirs. You cannot fight it for them. It is not your fault and it is not your responsibility to fix them. You role is to encourage and support. That may mean being patient until they’re ready, but in the meantime here are some suggestions for coping.
1. Work on your happiness and wellbeing
The only person you can really work on is yourself, and that’s really frustrating when you feel like the other person is the problem, but there are things that you can do. First, work on your happiness and your wellbeing. Being around a depressed person is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. You can acknowledge that what you are experiencing is stressful.
Just like they say in the airline briefing before each flight. If you need an oxygen mask and you’re with someone who needs help, put on your mask first, and then help the other person. Likewise, work on your happiness and emotional wellbeing first, and then you’ll be in a better position to help someone else. Every tool that I have to share that will help a person who is struggling with depression, will also help you. It’s not just for depression, it’s for building happiness, peace and resilience in everyone. Use the tools, and show an example of using them.
Follow a healthy life style to reduce stress (exercise, meditation, yoga). Don’t use substances to cope such as alcohol, this exacerbates the problem and makes it worse.
In addition to your mental and emotional wellbeing, you can work on the way you speak and interact with others. Are you kind? Are you respectful? Do you acknowledge a person’s feelings? Are you the kind of person that someone can turn to in a time of need? Do they feel emotionally safe with you? If you don’t respect how a person feels, it can shut down communication. If you are patronizing or judgmental then people don’t feel safe sharing their feelings with you. Practice good listening skills. Practice compassion. Practice acceptance.
2. Become informed
Second, you can learn about the disorder, and become informed. Learn what’s normal and what to expect. There are many resources available online, in libraries, and right here on the Hope for Healing website.
In addition to learning about the disorder, it’s helpful to learn what can be done to overcome the disorder. Remember we need to successfully do two things to heal from depression and become happy again. First we need to alter the chemistry in our bodies and our brains, and second we need to redirect the focus of the RAS to change the programs of our subconscious. Depending on the situation, medication and professional help may be necessary to correct chemical imbalances, but in addition to these valuable resources there are also things we can do to alter the chemistry in our brains.
The change will not be like flipping on a light switch, it is gradual like a sunrise. The key to achieving a hopeful sunrise is consistency. We have a plan for that. The Hope for Healing program consists of organizing simple emotional wellness tools into an effective progressive schedule that includes a short morning routine, a simple daily task, and a short evening routine. Following this simple program consistently brings about significant changes in the way a person thinks and feels.
Remember that there will be walls trying to block the path, but there’s a way to get through them by using the tools in the emotional first aid kit. If a person knows what is happening, why it’s happening and what to do about it, the walls become hurdles to overcome rather than prison bars.
Following this process changed my life. It brought back my happiness and allowed me to become myself again. I did not heal because I am special or lucky, but because I followed a program based on sound scientific principles.
Click here to learn more about the Hope for Healing Program.
3. Teach, inspire, invite
As you learn there is hope for healing, you can teach, inspire and invite your loved one to heal.
When I was in my dark place it was as if I had slid into a dark pit that was so deep that no hope or happiness or sunlight could enter. There were no windows or doors in this deep pit of despair, and I couldn’t see any way out. It felt totally and completely hopeless.
I thought that this was my new reality, this was as good as it was going to get, and the best I could do from this point on was to endure in misery for the rest of my life.
I would still be in that dark place today if my sister hadn’t offered me a ladder to climb out of that hole. She saved me. I still had to do the work, but she taught me what to do, she gave me hope that I could do something that would make a difference, and she held me accountable.
4. Ask for and accept help
Fourth, you can ask for and accept help. Help from friends or professional help. You don’t have to face this alone. We invite you to review the resources listed on this website.
5. Learn to let go
Fifth, you can let go. This is not your problem – this is not your fault – you are a support. You cannot fix them and you don’t need to clean up their messes. Trying to fix another person or eliminate consequences are forms of enabling. It weakens a person. The word enable means to give someone or something the authority or means to do something. In terms of dealing with someone with depression, enabling means that your actions are giving a person permission to remain in their depression. A person who is enabled, becomes more powerless and more dependent. They rely more and more on other people to solve their problems and remove their consequences. They assume they can do whatever they feel like and other people will deal with it and clean up their mess. That is unfair to caregivers, and it’s unfair to everyone else in society.
Instead of enabling, we want to choose thoughts, words, and behaviors that empower the person to be able to heal and solve their own problems.
It might be helpful to again remember the examples of King Theoden or Will. Whenever you say something, do something, or make a decision, consider whether it’s helping the person inside or enabling the power that is keeping them trapped. Think about these characters’ escape; in both cases there were times when something that appears like a kindness is actually enabling the power over them, and times when something that appears unkind is what helps them become free.
6. Separate the person from the disorder
You can learn to separate the person from the disorder. As we look at the example of King Theoden or Will Byers from Stranger Things, you can love and support the real person, the one trapped inside the dark influence. Don’t lose sight of that person. Some people find it helpful to give the depression a name, for example you could say, “That’s not you talking, that’s the mind flayer I’m hearing.”
Whenever possible empower the person. We empower when we show confidence and trust in a person. That can be hard to do when a person isn’t inspiring much confidence or giving reasons to trust. Again, it might be helpful to go the examples of King Theoden or Will Byers. It’s easier to express confidence and trust for the person inside rather than the current situation. Remember the person inside.
We empower, when we invite rather than trying to force a person to do something.
We empower when we hold a person accountable. That may include some tough love and some straight talk. If they say or do something hurtful or self-depreciating – call them on it. It may include helping a person realize how their actions are affecting you and your family. It may include stepping back and not solving someone else’s problems for them. This may include consequences for behavior. This may include not allowing excuses.
8. Set boundaries
One important tool when dealing with a person with a mental or emotional issue is to set boundaries. You are not responsible for another person’s mood or actions, but you are responsible for yourself and you can choose what you will and will not put up with. Sometimes that might include saying something like, “I deserve to be treated with respect.”
Or if someone says something negative about themselves, you might say, “I won’t allow anyone to talk that way about my friend, not even you.”
Notice when you are feeling manipulated and address it directly. Use non-blaming statements like “I am feeling manipulated, and I don’t like it,” rather than being accusatory. They can say what they want, but you don’t have to accept it or be manipulated by it.
Notice that all these examples use the word “I.” It’s not about them. It’s not accusing them or blaming them or forcing them to do anything. This is about you. This is what you expect, this is about how you feel, this is about what you will or won’t put up with. You matter and your needs matter. If necessary, stand up for yourself.
Danger of Self harm
Before I close today I need to talk about the potential of suicide. A person who is depressed often has thoughts that the world would be better off without them. When I was in my dark place, I had those thoughts a lot. Sometimes talk of suicide is just voicing a thought, sometimes talk of suicide is used to manipulate other people, and sometimes a person means to actually do it. Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously. Hold them accountable for their words. These are not words that should be thrown around lightly. Don’t allow a person to use threats to manipulate you. Regardless of their choices, this is not your fault. It has nothing to do with you.
There are a few signs that suggest imminent danger so let’s talk about those first. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), if you notice someone doing any of the following, they should get care immediately:
- putting their affairs in order or giving away their possessions
- saying goodbye to friends and family
- having a mood shift from despair to calm
- planning or finding a way to obtain the tools to complete a suicide, such as a firearm or medication
If you notice any of these signs then get help immediately. The phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or you can call 911.
If you call the suicide prevention lifeline, they will have someone who is trained to deal with the situation who can listen and give advice.
Here’s what happens when you call 911. It may vary somewhat depending on the laws of the particular state that you’re in, but I understand the protocols are similar in most states. The police will come and do a welfare check. If you tell them a person is suicidal or they have reason to believe that they are, the person is taken to a behavioral health facility to be evaluated. Typically, if they judge this person to be a danger to himself or herself, they can be held for up to 72 hours initially. During this time, they’re under supervision and kept away from potentially dangerous objects (belts, razors, etc). This may be extended for 3 or 4 additional days if the symptoms are particularly acute.
If after the evaluation, they decide the person doesn’t need 24/7 supervision, they’ll likely put them in an outpatient program where the person meets with therapists and/or therapy groups on a daily basis.
The state takes a threat to suicide very seriously. We should all take these threats seriously. If there is a real danger, then please get the help that you need. However, if a person is using a threat to manipulate the way you feel or the way you act, there is no reason to allow that. If someone is throwing around words about ending their life or that everybody would be better off without them, call them on it. Make them accept accountability for their words. Tell them that you’ll take them seriously and if they mean it then you’ll call 911 and explain what will happen to them when the call is made, and tell them that if they don’t mean it, then they shouldn’t say it. Sometimes we need a reality check to understand that our words matter.
I invite you to be the person that offers a ladder to someone who is trapped inside a deep, dark hole. I invite you to learn more about how a person can become happy again. I invite you to learn about the Hope for Healing Program, emotional first aid kit, Pathway to Happiness, etc.
In conclusion, I want to thank you for caring about your loved one. What you do matters, even if it’s not noticed or appreciated at the time. I’d like to share a quote by Leo Buscaglia, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Best wishes, Linda Bjork
Hope for Healing Program
The Hope for Healing Program is a simple, easy-to-follow system that can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety; build confidence and self-esteem; and heal relatioships.
Pathway to Happiness
Emotional First Aid Kit
30 Days to Alleviate Depression
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