Trying to support someone whose problems you cannot take away is difficult. You want to reach out, to provide whatever comfort you can, yet you know that the problem itself is not something you can control. This is the situation faced by those who have a loved one is in therapy or counseling, struggling with depression. It’s also faced by parents whose newborns are confined to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for serious health problems shortly after birth.
This latter group, parents of newborns in the NICU, struggle not only with worry for their child’s safety, but also miss out on much of the important bonding that takes place during the first few days of an infant’s life. So researchers at several children’s hospitals developed a system that allowed mothers and fathers to read to their children. By reading, they not only helped the child learn the sound of their voices, but were able to find a way to make contact—a feat which, amid incubators, tubes, lights, and monitors, is often difficult. The parents couldn’t do anything to speed their children’s recoveries, but by reaching out in the way that they could, they bettered the situation and promoted bonding, even in a limited capacity. Those reading sessions became so meaningful to the parents that many continued them when they brought the children home.
What does this have to do with depression? In reality, it’s not just an individual’s therapist or counselor who helps them with their depression. Social support comes from family, friends, and even religious leaders, and can be quite meaningful in helping a person heal. Supporting a person with depression, though, is not easy. Without setting necessary boundaries and taking time out for self-care, supporting a person with depression can lead to burnout and emotional fatigue for the supporter, which doesn’t help anyone. In supporting a person with depression, keep this in mind: like the infant in the NICU, you cannot fix their problems. Like parents reading to their children, reach out to your depressed loved one in the way that you can. The connection can be meaningful and helpful without rendering you depressed as well.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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