How to Support Someone with Depression or Anxiety

We all have times where we feel overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety however, when we get stuck in those moments and want to self-harm yourself or others it’s important to reach out, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 or text MHFA to 741741 to talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor. Get the free app Neurocycle. Dr. Caroline Leaf has created a 63 day app that will help you overcome your mindset when you are stuck.

When our friends or loved ones struggle we want to do anything and everything we can to help them. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what will help or even what to do. Put these numbers in your phone, right now. You never know who might need them and in an emergency having them is better than searching for them. Also, try the app yourself. We all can use a reset the Neurocycle can provide. I’ve used it to help control my anger or temper in a situation that I felt was constantly creating the wrong response from me. Your support can have a positive impact on your loved one or friends long-term mental health.

Research shows that connection with a family or friend is a protective factor in helping someone. Coaching, Counseling and small group interactions can also be very helpful. It’s hard for some people to ask for help or even realize that there is help out there. When you can walk along side them without judgement and be their advocate it increases their chance to receive help.

Research also has recently proved that depression and anxiety is not a diagnosis. They are symptoms to a root problem. You don’t have to have a mental illness to be overcome with either of these symptoms. All though most Psychiatrist will prescribe medications it should not be the first step, or the only step in recovery.

Helping someone may mean you have to take a look at your own mindset and misconceived perception of what depression and anxiety is. It may mean you explore what mental illness is. No one wants to be labeled with having a mental illness. Everyone wants a healthy brain. Exploring with someone where the change in the attitude or mindset started is a clue for the coach or counselor.

I had a client that came to me frustrated with her husband. Politely stated her husband of 15 years had become a jerk. She could barely tolerate him and recently he had escalated his behavior to include violence. She was becoming fearful that he would go farther than pushing her. Her faith had her in turmoil as to what she should do, yet self-preservation was top on her mind. The counselor she was seeing suggested she leave him immediately. I asked if she thought her husband would come in for coaching as a couple. He agreed. He didn’t understand his attitude either, he felt moody, depressed and struggled with conflict. He knew he was always angry and he couldn’t tell us why. When asked how long he’d been acting like a “jerk” his wife said it was maybe 5-6 years that have changed. We discussed what changes had taken place over that time period. The one major change was that 6 years ago he started a new job as a furniture refinisher. He worked spraying stains and finishes on furniture in a paint booth. I asked if he was exposed to these chemicals, what type of protective equipment they used. He stated they company required them to wear a mask, and it was a ventilated booth. I asked if he wore the mask regularly. Sheepishly he stated that he used to try to wear it but it was uncomfortable so he stopped. He was sent to a physician who discovered he had a chemical toxicity level well above normal. He discovered the chemicals were impairing his ability to think and react correctly. His wife discovered he was ill and not just a “jerk”. They are working on his health and working on their marriage. His reactions to circumstances are changing with his health improvement.

Sometimes, we need to look at how long we have been depressed or have become anxious about something. Outside triggers that can amplify our emotions. It’s important to be reflective in your thinking. Asking: How long have I felt like this? When was the last time I was not anxious over this occurrence? What are my triggers? How long have I felt depressed? When was a time I didn’t feel this way? What happened that changed that feeling?

As a child I was a “tomboy”. I climbed trees, swung from vines and ropes, I loved to ride roller coasters and was definably a thrill seeker. When I was about 10 years old I climbed a new cypress tree I found in the woods behind our farm. The higher I climbed the more I could see. I had to reach the top it was challenge. My foot became wedged in a tree branch as I tried to get more leverage. Try as I might I could not free my foot. I tried taking off my shoe but I couldn’t free my foot. I was know to be gone all day exploring so my parents did not look for me right away. I thought about hanging and hoping gravity would force my foot free but fear of the fall took hold. It was close to dark before I heard my dad yelling my name. I was exhausted and scraped up, my throat was dry and I was sure he couldn’t hear me. Finally, he found me. With the help of some neighbors they were able to get a ladder close enough to me, with ropes and a homemade harness they made it up to me and was able to wrestle my swollen foot out.

Recently, about 40 years later I wanted to discover why I had such a fear of elevators, rope swings, swinging bridges, ziplines, roller coasters, heights in general. For years I had rationalized with myself that a lot of people have a fear of heights. Mine had started to paralyze me from doing things I once considered fun. I decided to intentionally do some reflective thinking around this fear. I discovered the root of the problem stemmed back to my childhood antic and trauma. It was the last tree I climbed. I struggled with climbing up a ladder until I finally had to quit that as well. On vacations when the others wanted to zipline or ride in a gondola, I was hit with waves of anxiety that would leave me shaking and sick so I couldn’t enjoy. I couldn’t go up to the top of the Arch in St. Louis with my grandchildren. I didn’t want them to be afraid so I thought I could do it. I went up tears streaming down my face and was rushed back down, only to run to the grass outside panting and crying. This was not me. This was a weakness I didn’t want but couldn’t shake. I can say that after my reflective thinking I am overcoming this fear. I was able to go ziplining with my grandchildren. Yes, I screamed the entire time, and they may have had to push me off the platform, but I did it!

What support looks like.

1. Treat the person with respect and dignity. Every emotion is their emotion and not yours. They have every right to feel the way they do. Even when they don’t want to feel this way.

2. Offer consistent emotional support and understanding. It’s more important for you to be genuinely caring than to say or try to do all the “right” things. Trite sayings, “You’ll be fine” “Buck up” “Just try harder” “Have faith” are not helpful emotions support.

3. Provide practical help. This means doing some things but not taking over everything for them or encourage dependency.

4. Give the person hope for recovery. Offer emotional support a listening ear, not a judgmental ear. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking, or feeling. Hope is provided by helping them with positive support.

5. Be an advocate for how they feel. You can feel a difference when taking a medication in 7-10 days. Don’t wait until the next Dr appt that may be 6-8 weeks away to tell the Dr. about a change that is not helpful. Many medications may take 4-5 times of changing and seeing what will work. When you’re depressed or anxious it is difficult to see what the point even is in taking anything. Help them not to experiment with taking this pill and not that to see how they feel on their own. Not every coach, counselor or Dr will be the perfect fit for everyone. Help them find the one that connects with them. Again, it takes energy that they may not have to find the right one. Help them explore options.

6. Discover for yourself and help others in discovering the difference in mental illness and brain health. Remember Everyone wants a healthy brain!

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