SENIOR LIFE 101 Seeking help for the helper
September 24, 2009 · 2:30 PM
In last month’s column, I focused on the subject of “How to Deal with Depression,” and primarily addressed the warning signs and causes of this malaise as well as suggested some tips for overcoming depression. We established that, left alone, depression not only prevents older adults from enjoying life, it also takes a heavy toll on their health and their family.
When we see a loved one or friend suffering in a state of depression, our heart breaks for them and we desperately desire to offer help. However, unless we’re prepared and understand the weight associated with the negativity of depression, we may get pulled down with them.
In today’s column, I want to focus on the important consideration of taking care of you while supporting a loved one struggling with depression.
There is no doubt your support and encouragement can play an important role in a loved one’s recovery from depression. Yet taking care of yourself is equally important. The burden of depression will wear you down if you don’t tend to your own needs — and if it does, you won’t be in a position to help your friend or family member.
According to Helpguide.org, “Depression is a serious, but treatable disorder that affects millions of people, from young to old and from all walks of life. Depression gets in the way of everyday functioning and causes tremendous pain. And it doesn’t just hurt those suffering from it — it impacts everyone around them.”
If someone you love has a mood disorder, you may be struggling with any number of difficult emotions: helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, sadness. However, all of these feelings are normal. Dealing with a friend or family member’s depression, particularly an older adult, is difficult. But if you aren’t careful, it can become overwhelming.
That said, you can make a difference in a loved one’s depression by learning about the problem, encouraging treatment and offering support. In fact, one of the most important things you can do to help is give your unconditional love and support. Finally, you can help by looking after your own emotional health. Taking care of yourself when someone close to you is depressed is not an act of selfishness — it’s a necessity. Being emotionally strong allows you to continue to love and care for the other person.
There’s a natural impulse to want to “fix” the problems of people we love, but you can’t control a loved one’s depression. You can, however, control how well you take care of yourself. And it’s equally as important for you to stay healthy as it is for the depressed person to get treatment.
The following basic guidelines will help you keep up your strength as you support your loved one through depression treatment and recovery:
• Speak up for yourself. You may be hesitant to speak out when the depressed person in your life upsets you or lets you down. However, communicating will actually help the relationship in the long run. If you’re suffering in silence and letting resentment build, your loved one will pick up on these negative emotions and feel even worse.
• Set boundaries. Of course you want to help, but you can only do so much. To avoid burnout and resentment, set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do.
• Stay on track with your own life. While some changes in your daily routine may be unavoidable while caring for a loved one, do your best to keep appointments and plans with friends.
• Seek support. You are not betraying your depressed loved one by turning to others for support. Joining a support group, talking to a counselor or clergyman, or confiding in a trusted friend will help you get through this tough time.
Remember the advice of airline flight attendants: “Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else.” In other words, make sure your own health and relationships are solid before you try to help a depressed person. When you’re on solid ground, you’ll be in a place to help your loved one.
Carl R. Johnson is the community relations director at Abiding HomeCare in Silverdale. He appears the last Friday of the month in the CK Reporter.