How to Care: A Gentle Call for Compassion in the Face of Depression

I sometimes wonder, have we lost the ability or the inclination to care? I guess the optimist in me would like to think the reality is not quite as bleak as that… Not yet, I hope. No. I would like to imagine instead a world where we simply don’t know how to care in the face of suffering, in spite of very much wanting to care. Pain and suffering in the lives of those we love can often leave us floundering, not quite knowing where to even begin when it comes to easing their hurt.

On the other hand, perhaps, sadly, we are simply strictly adhering to the motto of our time, that the problems of others are not our own? Oh dear reader, if this is the case, I can only assure you that we are each and every one of us a part of something so much greater. When one of us hurts, so do we all. And we are all ultimately affected unless we reflect, regroup and make a new pledge to the cause of compassion. I know this in the deepest caverns of my heart to be true.

For today, if you can find the time for a hurt close to me and my human experience, in this humble little offering, I evoke the name of compassion with the singular wish that we might care better for those loved ones struggling with depression. The shame, the secrecy, the endless misunderstandings fuelled in no small part by stigmas have steered a desperately needed conversation in the direction of clinical sterility instead of into the hearts and homes where they are needed, and with it, away from a vocabulary of everyday care and compassion. So let’s see if we can change that, shall we?


  1. Let’s Talk. Like For Real.

Many of those suffering with mental health issues feel so often forced into a life of shame and secrecy or at best, polite euphemisms  and catch phrases when it comes to their day to day struggles. In truth, they need you more than they’re ever likely to admit. Let them know that you genuinely care and create the kind of conversation where they can feel comfortable and safe to let you into their world. Display an openness and ease with their diagnosis as you would any other. Be gentle always in your approach but don’t shy away from seemingly awkward topics like medication and treatment. Show a sincere interest in the course of treatment they are taking, and if there are any risks or side effects that are a source of concern. Steer clear of unsolicited advice that might make them feel you are trying to “fix” them. Right now, your being there is more important. An open flow of communication is often the first step in helping a loved one feel less alone, giving them the strength to forge onwards one small triumph or minor setback at a time on their path to healing.


  1. Practise Empathy.

Be a shoulder to cry on and an attentive listener, by all means.  But where you can, find the time to put your empathy to work, as it were. Sometimes your words will not be able to console them. Sometimes the inner struggle demands that a dark night of the soul is met alone, and you may feel your loved one withdraw from you emotionally. Such emotional turmoil of the soul can be a great deal more draining than many on the outside realise, as hard as this is on those trying to understand. It is not surprising that such journeys of the soul have been described as an odyssey or a metamorphosis. A lack of appetite can ensue. Listlessness and a desire to sleep away the day is yet another symptom as the body feels overcome with an overwhelming fatigue. Now is the time you take action. Find out if there are any errands they need done. Check on the contents of their fridge. A pot of soup or a ready-made lasagne never goes amiss. If they have children, offer to assist with lifting or homework. Help to create an environment where they can reserve their energy for self-healing. Take them beachcombing along the seashore or play a game of cards with them in the sunshine. Simple, nourishing activities will slowly bring them back to embodying the body.


  1. Be Bright and Shine On Like a Crazy Diamond

This world is not without its flaws. Honestly, it seems like the most scathing indictment in such desperate times of discontent and disconnection that so many of us find ourselves unravelling at the seams, exhausted by the demands of a life we weren’t even sure we wanted. But here’s the catch. It ain’t over yet, folks. And if we’re ready for a love revolution, it can also be beautiful and unpredictable and magical and full of wonders that never cease to raise our souls to new heights. So put on those rose-tinted glasses and bring these back into focus for your loved one… A weekend away from the bright city lights, wishing on shooting stars or dragon hunting in cloud formations… Ransack the library of its greatest poets for a night of reading by candlelight… Prepare a glorious feast that tastes of elsewhere (trust me, it’s only a Google search away!)… Paint each other’s toenails whimsical colours in crisp, new pyjamas… Clear a patch of earth and plant a life majestic together… Depression is not unlike having your very spark extinguished, so help them rekindle it. Far, far away from the crowds and the noise and the fuss. You probably need it just as much as they do. Compassion goes a long way.  For all of us. Each and every one.


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