How You Can Help Someone Who Is Grieving or Depressed
When the Black Dog Calls
I laugh and catch the reaction in a strangers eye
Too loud! I am laughing too loud!
Powerless to stop I laugh on
Through fingers pressed hard against my mouth
Who cares? What do they know anyway?
They are blind!
One day they will see
And then like me
They too will laugh too loud!
- Sally Fairweather
In the UK we use the term 'Black Dog' as a euphemism for depression. The poem above is not the happiest of poems; I wrote it just a few months after losing my husband. The thing is, I think anyone suffering or going through such a loss or any other type of depression, may just recognise themselves and know that they are not alone. For those who have not yet experienced such a loss the feeling is a little like that panic you feel just before you fall over. It is fleeting and either you fall or you save yourself, but it is fleeting! With grief that feeling stays with you - all of the time - it never goes away. A terrible mixture of panic, fear and anticipated pain. I know that in time I will be able to bury it and people tell me to go for a walk, take up a hobby, even see a doctor and yes I could do all of those things. I just don't want to.
However, I am an intelligent person and I know that it will pass, or at least change to something else. I have no advice for anyone suffering similarly, except to say - you are not alone!
I do however, have some advice for friends and relatives of anyone going through any type of depression. Please don't tell them to go for a walk, join a painting club, or do anything else that you feel would help them to 'snap out of it'. They can't snap out of it. I can't snap out of it. Let them be on their own if they wish, but stay close by. Try to make all of your conversations with them as normal as possible and talk about all of the things, good and bad, happy and sad, that are happening in your life because they sure as anything don't want you to hear about their's. If you can make them laugh then even better. Natural laughter is the one time they will truly forget the pain. If you are popping out to the shop don't offer to do their's for them but instead go fetch their shoes and tell them to come with you. In fact get them outside as much as you can. You don't have to arrange special outings or holidays. Normal things are fine - a shopping trip, lunch, picking the kids up from school. All the everyday things we take for granted.
Recognise that a major symptom of depression is the failure to take care of yourself or your surroundings. Try running them a bath, put some candles out and a glass of wine. Treat them to some beautiful bath salts or essential oils. Do the washing up occasionally and if they are not eating make them something they love and take it with you when you go to visit. Sometimes, they will be angry and purposely push you away. Please don't take it to heart, it is the illness not the person.
Above all, let the sunshine in! Both figuratively and physically. Don't let them live in the dark. Open all the curtains and the windows too if it's not too cold. Encourage routine. Make sure they set their alarm each night so that they get out of bed in the morning.
A word of caution. If they have been nursing a partner or in fact anyone who was ill and has recently died, it is likely that there will be a cupboard full of drugs somewhere. Find them and return them to the doctor's surgery or a pharmacy. If you are concerned that your friend or relative may harm themself - do not delay - you have to speak to their g.p. whether they want you to or not. Watch for seemingly sudden improvements in mood or wellbeing - sometimes the things that appear to be good signs are exactly the opposite.
Please. Be a friend.
Let The Sun Rise Again
Its natural to want to keep your feelings to yourself. The British stiff upper lip lives on to the detriment of all. Please if you feel a sufferer needs extra help click one of the links above, or better still, get them to do it.
Don't be afraid to mention or talk about the person who has died. There is nothing I like more than being reminded of all the funny things my husband said or did and I have learnt quite a lot of things I never even knew about.
Another thing which helped me, especially when I have been at my lowest, was my husband's favourite T Shirt. Sometimes I think it is childish of me, but I cannot deny I use it in the same way a child might use their favourite soft toy and I cannot sleep without it. My husband wore it the day before he died and I haven't washed it. It still smell's of him and I treasure it.
There will be a future
Encourage a grieving or depressed person to continue to look forwards. Later today, tomorrow, next week, next year. Make plans with them but please don't allow them to make huge or life changing decisions until they are in a much better frame of mind. Soon after my husband died, I could have been forgiven for wanting to sell up the business we had struggled with together for 35 years. It's over a year ago now and my daughters are running it for me. It would have been a a massive mistake to let it go. Similarly the house!
Another milestone will be going through the deceased personal belongings. I have been through my husband's things now but still can't bring myself to part with anything. Even I admit I need help with this and I intend to get my daughters to help me decide what to keep and what to let go very soon. The house itself became a bit run down during my husbands illness and on the one hand, I am hoping that a bit of redecoration and a coat of paint will bring it back to its former glory and help lift my spirits, but I do still fear change and so it will have to wait a little longer.
And so you see - there is a future for you, your friend of your relative. It is true that life goes on and I so wish you, your friend or your relative a life free of further anguish.
Help & Support
- Home | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental health problems
We're Mind, the mental health charity. We're here to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
Always there when you feel you can't go on.
- Cruse Bereavement Care
Free bereavement counselling