by Elliot Lyons
We just dropped a video [here] on depression, and it got me thinking: I’ll never understand the depression of the people I love, but I’ve learned to respect their strength, which is often misunderstood.
Choosing me to open up to took courage, and in that vulnerability there was incredible power and vitality. But I’ve failed to understand from my perspective as a neurotypical person, and as someone who’s never been depressed.
And I haven’t failed to be the person I needed to be for the people I cared about because I didn’t mean well. I failed because I wanted to “fix”— to “cure.”
My frustration and desire to solve became a weaponized diagnosis and prognosis: “If they had just done something different,” “If they would just smile more, get out of bed, or go work out and just stop being so damn gloomy all of the time!” or even, “Why don’t they just snap out of it?!”
This type of language is rooted in cause and effect and origins. Despite my good intentions, I lay blame at the feet of the people I cared about; they could do something about it, since something may have been causing it and getting rid of that something would have made their depression go away.
But it ain’t that easy— some things don’t work that way. Sometimes there’s really not a good reason “why.”
Speaking and thinking about depression in a way that signalled ultimate control over its presence only made the gap between me and the people I loved bigger, because I misunderstood them in a way that made their struggles even more invisible.
“You’re not my therapist,” a loved one said as I tried to find another way to help, to understand what she needed. I think what she was trying to say was that I needed to listen differently.
This listening required silence in judgement, focusing on a shift from diagnosis and prognosis to support. My initial silence made space for conversation, a conversation where the question of whether she was seeking professional help arose, which was made possible because she felt secure and validated.
Now, there are many legitimate reasons why people don’t see mental health professionals—such as access, cost, or previous negative experiences— and the struggle for us on the supporting end is helping without judging without diagnosing—and without enabling.
So what do we do? How do we provide support?
Everyone’s different, needing different things, which is why we have to listen to be able to hear what they need. Sometimes it’s an ear and measured encouragement or asking whether they plan on seeking professional help, and always definitely taking it upon ourselves to learn more about depression. But whatever the course of action may be, we can’t give support without making people feel validated or by minimizing their illness, and that all begins with listening.
*If you think someone is in danger of taking their life, please seek immediate help