I wrote this a few months ago before I was brave enough to publish my thoughts. And I believe it is important for me to take part in this conversation and share with all of you who are helping and supporting a person with depression. We need to realise we are not alone either.
Insight – Listen and Learn
Last night I went along to the award-winning show written and performed by Rob Mokaraka, “Shot Bro! Confessions of a depressed bullet”. This story is about Rob’s personal battle with depression and a traumatic event in 2009. With a lot of professional help and the aroha (love) of whanau (family) and friends, he crafted a show that empowers people with depression.
I have been following this show on Facebook for the last 18 months or so waiting for the day that the show and I were in the same place at the same time. I saw a piece on Maori TV a couple of years ago; Rob was sharing his story about depression and I knew it was something I needed to see. Hopefully it could give me more insight into the minds of my loved ones living with depression and maybe it could add another tool to my belt when trying to support them. And it has – more insight and more tools.
Our journey – Learning to support my husband who lives with depression
I have not personally battled depression and I find it very difficult to imagine the magnitude of the struggle going on for people. I am not sure you can really comprehend the effects if you have not experienced it in some way yourself, but my husband Cam has and does (and many others in my tribe do too). The last eight or so years for me has been about learning how to support Cam and my tribe. My biggest work-ons have been trying to understand what it is like (this is the hardest part for me and I am not sure I will ever really get it) and trying to be understanding. There are moments when I am very understanding, then there are/were those moments/days when I would want to pull my hair out, because Cam knew what it is that would help him feel better but yet he’d just sit on the sofa! And in my head I am shouting, “Why don’t you just get off the sofa and go for a walk and get some sun!’ – not very understanding.
I believe that for those of us who have not suffered with depression, it is difficult to understand and empathise. And many times I was left frustrated as both of us logically knew that going to for a walk or doing something that we both loved doing together would probably make him feel better, but he was not willing or able to leave the house. There were days I would sit in with him but other times I just wanted/needed to get out and so would leave the house for a few hours. For those of us supporting a loved one, we need to make sure we get time out and make time for our self-care. We are no good to anyone when we are running on empty.
We have a problem in New Zealand
In our society we clearly have a major problem with depression. Our suicide rate in New Zealand is amongst the highest in the OECD. We have a major problem. We have a public mental health system that is not robust enough to deal with the magnitude of the issue, waiting lists to get into publicly funded programs and therapists can take months to be seen. Private therapy seems unaffordable to many of the people that need it most. I have no doubt the clinicians in the sector are doing all they can to help their clients but there are just not enough of them to go round. So that leaves us, the friends and families, to step up and lean in. Be prepared to be uncomfortable yourself, be prepared to ask hard questions and be prepared to accept the answers that you are given.
10 Things I have learnt along the way that may help them and help you – in no particular order:
1. Validate rather than invalidate – their feelings are real to them, their perception is their reality, don’t dismiss these feelings.
2. Work on being non- judgemental and adopting a non-judgemental stance, this takes practice folks. But will be so helpful to your loved ones. I encourage you to read more about how and why.
3. Cuddles, love, connection – just sit on the sofa and hold their hand
4. Listen – don’t try to fix or solve the problem, just listen until you are asked for advice or asked to help them problem solve.
5. Ask them what they personally need. – Get specifics. “What does support specifically look like to you?” For instance, when I am down I want help finding solutions, so when I talk to a friend I appreciate them giving me solutions. However, my husband does not. He just wants someone to listen and not judge or give solutions… he says he has already thought of the solutions and knows which is the best option but when he is that low he cannot action it. He is stuck and needs time to work through it. So for us, I listen, give him a cuddle and then leave him to have some alone time (in the room or on the sofa) while I get on with other things.
6. Find support yourself – make sure you take care of yourself. Know that you are not selfish for needing some time out.
7. Be honest with your emotions to encourage those around you to be honest with their feelings, don’t say you are good or fine when you are not. Create an environment around you where honest emotions are well received and therefore the barrier to open conversations is taken away.
8. If you are concerned about suicide, then ask the person if they are having thoughts of self-harm/suicide, sit with them, keep a close eye on them. I feel very grateful Cam has never been suicidal but a few of my tribe have been.
9. Know that you will not always get it right, but remember you are trying your best.
10. Know your boundaries and let your loved ones know too. For example, I only ask 3 times if people are ok – they need to come meet me some of the way. And I don’t stay overnight in hospital when friends have attempted suicide. Cam is the one who has stayed the night and slept in the hospital chair for our tribe. So many broken people… there have been too many hospital visits.
Your support network is important
This is my lived experience I am sharing so those of you who are supporting someone know that you are not alone and you don’t have to be strong the entire time. Ask for help and support, share your situation and feelings with your friends, have a time out. I have had some incredible people who have supported me when things were tough at home.
My personal experience should not be taken in place of professional advice. Seek help for yourself or your love one.
Professional Services in NZ
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.