Understanding Your Loved Ones Depression and Anxiety
One of the most famous movie lines from 2019 was, “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t (Joker, 2019)”.
That quote resonated with many people, because it stands true. We are all expected to wake up and put on our best mask to get through the day. Companies even have the motto of “leave your problems at home”. Yet, when are people who are suffering from depression and anxiety allowed to put their mask away and authentically be themselves? No filters, no fake laughs, and no endless small talk to get through every painful interaction.
Before I became a mental health practitioner, I was uncomfortable with people crying around me, not because I did not want them to express their emotions, it is because I did not know how to deal with it. I was uncomfortable sitting with someone while they were in pain, because I did not know how to fix it or what to say. Oftentimes, I would try to make a light joke to get them to laugh, sometimes it worked and other times, it did not. As I learned, what I found was that people who are hurting do not want someone to fix their pain, they just want to be seen for what they are going through. People want to finally be able to put their mask away and be authentic. They want to be able to say:
“I am not fine today”
“My depression is really bad today”
“I am suffering from anxiety”
When people become vulnerable with us, we may get scared and naturally want to fix everything. We may respond with:
“Oh, you will be okay”
“Just calm down, everything will be okay”
“You just need to relax and stop overthinking”
Although, those phrases may seem helpful, they are dismissive of your loved one’s reality. Trust me, they want to be okay. They want to be able to calm down. They want to relax. If they could, they would not have a mental illness. These individuals tend to suffer in silence, because they do not feel heard or seen by the people, they love the most.
Imagine a scenario where a person tells a doctor that they have been in an accident and cannot feel their arms, and the doctor says, “Well, have you tried moving them?” That would be asinine! Yet, people treat anxiety and depression just like that; they try to explain away the symptoms. We have to learn to be able to sit with other people’s pain. Yes, it is uncomfortable, and it can be awkward, but we all deserve to be seen.
Instead of trying to fix it and make yourself comfortable, try these phrases next:
“What can I do to help?”
“Have you eaten anything today?”
“Do you need me to get you anything”
“May I give you a hug?”
“Can we pray together”
You can even just be present. They may not want to talk; they may just want to watch television; pull up a seat and watch television with them. People with depression tend to forget to eat, ask if you can bring food or cook them something. People with anxiety tend to over rationalize, do grounding techniques with them and just listen. Offer to attend a therapy session with them or go for a walk.
Most importantly, just be present. After a while, putting on a mask is exhausting, it takes mental effort to convince yourself you are happy when you know you are not. Let them feel like they do not have to put on their mask around you.
Arianna Crum, PLMHP, MPH, MSW