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Is depression contagious?

posted 20 Jul 2013, 21:47 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 25 Jul 2013, 23:48 ]
Hopefully that question got you thinking! This article is mainly for support people of those experiencing depression. It can be easy to find yourself feeling run down or burned out when you have been supporting someone with depression, and your self care has taken a back seat.

Self care is important for us all, including those with robust mental health (it helps keep the robustness alive) and those who are facing challenges around their mental health. Someone who is experiencing a depressive episode may not be aware of the impact they are having on others, so it's up to you to build your own awareness about what you need so that you can continue helping out your friend/loved one. Some things to consider:
  • What do you notice about yourself when you are getting stressed? I know someone who starts getting grumpy, when they're a normally optimistic person. I know someone else who starts looking critically at others, which is a sure sign she needs some alone time. Once you know your own signals, you can take action quickly so you don't get into a dark place yourself.
  • How easy is it for you to say no? Those who find it difficult to say no can run themselves into the ground before they stop and take stock of where they're at. Saying yes is healthy when you are feeling resourced and when you have the time, ability and motivation to help. If you are busy with something else, your mind is on something else or you have somewhere else you want/need to be, saying yes means you are not going to be fully present, and less effective at what you've promised to do. It can also mean that you're less likely to be able to recognise when you are getting overwhelmed.
  • Do you know the difference between empathy and sympathy? Empathy is the capacity to recognise emotions in another. It is strongly linked to compassion, which creates connection between people. Sympathy, on the other hand, doesn't require the listener to recognise what's going on for the other person, so that they can end up 'joining' the depressed person in their dark state, without understanding how they got there. They will also struggle to get out of that state as they are unlikely to have the tools to do so (having not experienced it themselves).
    • An empathic statement would be something like "That sound really tough."
    • A sympathetic statement might be "Poor you, that's absolutely horrible."
    • Empathy is like walking alongside the person and help them find their own solutions to what they're going through. Sympathy joins the person in their state, which can be disempowering for both people and can lead to a dual feeling of 'stuckness'.
  • What do you say in your head when you hear from your depressed friend? If you wonder how they are doing, you are most likely in a place of resilience where you are able to be of assistance. If you feel dread, resentment or are tempted not to return the email/phone call/text, it may be because you need to put yourself first. You can still return the contact, with yourself as a priority (and say no if you're not able to be of assistance at this time).
  • Do you have an understanding with your friend about appropriate contact? Does your friend contact you multiple times a day, when you are at work, very early in the morning or late at night? This type of contact can lead to you feeling overwhelmed quite quickly. It's important to have an agreement that certain contact is only appropriate if there is an emergency; otherwise, they need to wait to hear from you when you are available. Likewise, if your friend is in crisis, and they are not returning your contact, this can be very stressful. They need to understand that you need to be considered also.
Good luck with your journey of supporting someone experiencing depression. Remember that you are special and deserve recognition, even if it's indirect or late in arriving.

Suzi Wallis | Jan 2013