What to do if someone is not OK
From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
One positive thing that has come out of the pandemic: Not only are we more OK with being not OK, but we are also taking time to reconnect with others and have real conversations.
So many social interactions are nothing more than polite conversation, but as we emerge from our COVID isolations, conversations are about real connection. I know that things were a bit awkward at first, but now many find themselves asking the question “How are you doing?” and responding with real conversations.
So what do we do when the answer to the question is honest and lets us know someone is struggling? Where do you go from there and what can you do to help?
Depression is more common than you would think and does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, genders and socioeconomics. Before the pandemic, depression was on the rise, especially in lower-income areas. The impact of the pandemic on mental health is still climbing. The ripples of depression are felt not only by the individuals but also by their families, friends and employers. Depression can make even simple daily tasks feel impossible. Suicide and addiction can be devastating consequences. Fortunately, prevention and treatment options are out there, and the more we talk about depression the more we need to learn to recognize and respond.
Depression is more than just the blues or being sad. Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period. Common symptoms include:
- Low or irritable mood most of the time
- A loss of pleasure in usual activities
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- A big change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate and guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unusually slow or fast movements
- Lack of activity and avoiding usual activities
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
Deep in the symptoms of depression for those who struggle can be a lack of motivation, energy or insight enabling someone to reach out for help on their own. What can you do when you suspect someone you know is depressed or thinking of suicide, or when it feels like you are trying but nothing seems to make a difference?
Just be there, listen and let them know you care. At times you may not feel your presence is wanted. But don’t underestimate showing up; just being there for someone and listening with empathy can show a person that she is not alone and that someone does care. There can be a great deal of guilt and shame involved in deep depression. Allowing someone to just talk about what they are going through can be so helpful. It is OK for someone to feel sad; don’t feel like you must solve all their problems or cheer them up. A lot of people are not comfortable sitting with sadness and think it must be avoided. The truth is, emotions are part of life and even a healthy response to life stressors.
Ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” One of the biggest misconceptions regarding suicide is that if you ask the question that you may be planting the idea. The reality is that by asking the question, you are showing support and concern. Don’t dismiss or minimize (“It is really not that bad”) the person’s comments and ask direct questions.
- Talk to the person about your concern. Ask if he or she has been thinking about suicide or has a plan for how to do it. Having a plan indicates a higher risk of suicide.
- Seek help. Contact the person’s doctor, mental health provider or other health care professional. Let other family members or close friends know what’s going on.
- Call a suicide hotline number. In the United States you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to talk to a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. You can also call Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center at 733-2046. Better yet, make the call together.
- Make sure the person is safe. If possible, eliminate access to any means used to attempt suicide. For example, remove or lock up firearms, other weapons and medications.
- Call 911 if the person is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Make sure someone stays with that person.
Be genuine. You don’t need to walk on eggshells or inadvertently make the person feel like a burden or a problem. Be genuine and voice your concerns about the person. Try not to get into the “fix it” mode. You may not be able to solve all their problems, but the most important thing is your presence and understanding, showing empathy, and making a connection. Avoid judgment. The inability to “snap out of it” is true depression. Depression is not just being sad, it is an illness, so it’s no different from telling someone with another physical ailment to “buck up.” In fact, most who are suffering from severe depression have already tried this approach and may already feel like a failure for not being able.
Reach out and provide social opportunities. Ask them to help you out with a project or something that will include them but not call attention to their depression and make them feel embarrassed or like a burden. Invite them to contribute to your life in some way, even if it’s as small as asking you to go see a movie that you wanted to see.
These are just a few suggestions for supporting those you care about. Be patient with them and yourself, educate yourself and others on depression and resources in our community. Helping people get the treatment they need may take time and many different approaches but can make a difference.