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How to Help Someone With Depression

April 30, 2014
Seth Adam Smith

Because I'm open about my depression, I get a lot of emails from people who are worried about a loved one who is struggling. How can I help them? they ask.

Well, that's a really tough question to answer, because most of the time I don't really know how to help myself. The nature of depression is to drain energy and hope from the body, leaving us feeling helpless and alone.

That being said, that feeling can be overcome by the empathy and compassion of others.

About six months into my marriage, I started to go through a really intense episode of depression. It felt like a thick cloud of sadness had settled on me and I began to withdraw from others -- including my wife, Kim.

Obviously, Kim noticed the difference and tried everything she could to help me. But I insisted that I didn't want to talk about it, that I didn't know what to do, that I just wanted to be left alone.

One day, Kim came to me and asked if we could go on a walk. I gave a dull nod and we went outside, holding hands. Not long into our walk, Kim said this: "Seth, I feel like there's something inside of you that's keeping you away from me. I don't know how to help you," she then stopped and put both of her hands on the sides of my face. "But I want you to know that I'm not going anywhere, okay? I am here for you. And even when you don't love yourself, I want you to know that I love you."

I looked at Kim. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. My heart softened, and suddenly, the sadness didn't feel as strong. You see, depression thrives in secrecy but shrinks in empathy.

Obviously, there's a fine line between loving someone and enabling someone. After that moment with my wife, we had to have a lot of conversations about what we could do to deal with and overcome the depression -- together. But empathy is what opened the door to those conversations. As soon as I felt safe, I felt like I could open up and explore options for help (professional and otherwise).

Depression thrives in secrecy but shrinks in empathy. If you know someone that is struggling with depression, the best advice I can give you is to love them and empathize with their pain. The empathy, coupled with your encouragement, will open the door to other solutions.