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Do not convince a depressed person everything’s getting better again


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Supporting a loved one having depression can be a challenging task. Especially when we haven’t experienced a major depression ourselves.


We love this person, and thus we suffer with him or her. We try everything we can to help in overcoming this endless void.


Most of the time, we find ourselves talking to a wall. Whatever we try to ingrain seems to bounce off fruitlessly; We just feel powerless.


I’m addressing today’s article to everyone who supports a friend or family member having depression. I’ll explain why trying to push through positive thoughts results in the contrary to what you intended to achieve, and I’ll show you what you can do instead.


To simplify writing and readability, I’ll be using “he, him” to refer to your friend or family member who’s depressed. Just know that I'm not ignoring the other gender!



What makes it ineffective to motivate a depressed person with positive thoughts?


A depressed person hasn’t always been depressed. This person, before depression, could cope with the so-called “bad days” we all know. He could look forward to a brighter future whenever struggles with experiences came up. And it worked the same way it does for yourself. Telling a depressed person something like: “Have trust, tomorrow will be a better day. If not tomorrow, then someday soon. You will see! You’ll get there!”; is obsolete. Since he knows about it, and believe that he keeps on trying all the time with all the disposable energy.


While the intention is good, the effect is destructive.


Despite their best efforts to adopt a positive mindset, this person's consistent experiences of "failure" have given rise to self-loathing. This approach has proven them to fail. They've established a belief of not being "normal".


Encouraging a depressed person to think positively, reinforces the belief of not functioning properly, leading to a sense of disconnection from reality.


How to support instead?


The most important step a depressed person needs to take is to accept himself. This includes the state of depression he’s in. Everything you can do is to support this move. Cultivate an attitude of acceptance. It ultimately helps to decrease pressure and resistance, allowing the belief of feeling dis-connected to transform into a belief dictating: “I’m Okay the way I am”, “I am normal”. This state is crucial for the healing process to start.


How to cultivate acceptance?


The best way to support him is to make him feel accepted the way he is. Noticing that others accept him in his depressive state creates the foundation for him to accept himself.


Sounds logical right? The problem that occurs is that we’re too much focused on depression as an illness and thus, trying to do things that hopefully will make it go away.


Let’s start with dragging our attention away from depression and focus on the person itself.



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Stop putting depression in the spotlight


Everything has a root cause. As long as we try to fight the symptoms, he won’t be able to get to the reason for his depression.


Don’t talk about depression unless he wishes so. And while talking, try removing the weight from the topic while making him understand, that depression, the symptoms, only are signs to highlight one or more disharmonies within him.



“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” ― J.K. Rowling

Make him feel accepted the way he is.


Keep telling him it’s okay! Remove the weight of depression from conversations. If a moment of desperation arises, give him a hug if he allows it. But not in a way of feeling sorry and powerless. Make him feel that you’re there, that it’s okay to feel that way right now. Make him feel loved the way he is.


I know it isn’t easy, since depression is extremely present. He has no energy, constantly submitted to his burden, not able to find his way through to more positive talks. Cultivation takes time.



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Be his assistant in self-discovery whenever the situation allows it.


There are moments during depression where he tries to open up to reflect on his life. Especially, the more he’s able to accept himself, the more space he will have for such moments.

While we’re going deeper into the field of psychotherapy here, I think it’s worth mentioning what your role in this can be to support the process. This is not to be seen as a replacement of psychotherapy though.


An external view of him and his life will be extremely beneficial. A good starting point is to help him understand his values while providing him with information about how you perceive him. What are his strengths, what is important to him, or under which circumstances did you notice him building enthusiasm in the past. Help him discover areas in his life where he lived against his values. Remember to be his assistant, not his director.


This ultimately will help him come to reasons that appeal logical to him. Slowly getting to understand what potentially went wrong, will support acceptance and provide a possible path to change for a better future. Hope will grow slowly again.



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Be patient


Cultivating acceptance needs some time. But the more support he has in accepting himself, the faster it will be.


He probably has duties he’s not able to fulfill at the moment, making him feel worthless. Some are a real challenge, like the job guaranteeing enough money to pay the bills. If not already covered, help in finding a solution to allow him to step away from all the “must-dos”. He needs to be freed from all his duties so that he can reset himself if that makes sense? Talk to other family members and friends to collectively find solutions that will allow him to back off and heal.


Additionally, you may help him to always focus on the present when thoughts of past and future take over him. To always come back to what really matters will create space.


To close this off, let me express my personal thanks to you! I know how much my family and friends were struggling to help me. It isn't easy to see a beloved one suffering. Trust and acceptance will bring forth a fruitful ground once again. Have faith!


Enjoy the moment.



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