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Happiness vs Depression

Recently I’ve been writing a series on Happiness. I’ve had some inspiring feedback and thought-provoking insights from readers. So I wanted to pause Happiness – the series that is – and pick up on some of these observations.

Christmas is a time when happiness comes centre stage, and we’re all meant to be in the festive spirit, with plenty of ho ho ho. But for many people Christmas is tricky, bringing up difficult memories, highlighting problems, or causing a sense of isolation.

I’ve been reminded of how this is the case for the many who suffer with depression, and how others’ misunderstanding of the illness can add to the problem. I wanted to pass on thoughts that have been shared with me, and offer ideas for how this time of year can be made easier and happier.

Depression is not the opposite of happiness!

Happy people can become depressed, just as healthy people can get flu but are still essentially healthy, athletes can get injured but are still good athletes, and vocalists can lose their voice, but are still professional vocalists.

However, when an injury is physical it’s easier for others to see, to understand, to sympathise with, and to respond to. When the illness is hidden, others can be insensitive, albeit unintentionally, which makes matters worse.

Reminding ourselves of how best to support people with depression is always valuable, but perhaps especially so at a time of year when their problems are thrown into painful contrast with the all-pervasive joviality.

Guidelines for a Happier Christmas

Here are some really simple guidelines for supporting someone suffering from depression:

  • First and foremost, listen to them
  • Let them know you understand – not what they’re feeling, but just that they’re feeling bad.
  • Don’t try to fix their life. As one reader commented to me, “When someone’s trying to navigate their way through a storm, it’s not helpful to tell them that their boat needs a paint job!”
  • If you offer to help, make it clear that you mean it. Ask, “What can I do to help,” instead of a vague, “Let me know if you need anything”
  • Rather than saying, “I care about you”, show you care through your actions. Small surprises and kind gestures have a huge impact
  • Ditch the platitudes
  • No shaming! A positive psychologist suffering with a bout of depression told me that a friend had laughed at this apparent dichotomy, saying, “Well, you’ve got to admit it’s funny isn’t it!”
  • Suggest going out for a walk, or doing an exercise class together. It lets them know you want to spend time with them…and moving the body is a good way to give the mind a rest
  • Be persistent with your offers, even if they’re not accepted. Depressed people still want to be included, even if they can’t always participate fully
  • If you’re tempted to say, “There’s a lesson in this” stop yourself! If there is a lesson in what they’re going through, they’ll find it for themselves, in their own time

You can help those with depression by being aware, sensitive, empathic, and using common sense.

But then that’s not a bad way for us to be with anyone is it!

Have a Happy Christmas

Want to get 2016 off to a great start? Read Happiness is Go! on the Barrier Breakers blog.

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