The time my neighbor told me the cure for depression

The time my neighbor told me the cure for depression

Is there a cure for depression?

My neighbor sure seems to think so.

Shortly after moving into the house my family and I have been in for around 7 years, I met my neighbor from just down the road.

That first conversation covered a lot of territory. Yardwork. Home repairs. Recent changes in the local community. Dog ownership.

He quickly made me feel welcome in my new home. And he remains a neighbor I look forward to chatting with each time our paths cross.

But there’s a part of that first conversation I still think about often.

After sharing with my neighbor that I’m a therapist, he began to tell me about his own experience of depression—and how this experience revealed to him the way to overcome depression.

His tone became noticeably instructive, and it quickly became clear to me that this was no “how does this square with your experience?” kind of story my neighbor was sharing with me.

It was more of a “here’s the way it is” message with an implied “you’re welcome.”

His personal account of climbing out of depression centered on being thankful. He shared how he had learned to be thankful for the little things—fresh air in his lungs, birds chirping, good music, and some of the other things he had previously taken for granted.    

“Be sure to tell your patients that,” he said. “They just have to take a more positive outlook on life.”

Is gratitude the cure for depression?

Much has been said in recent years about the role of gratitude in achieving and sustaining mental health. And I certainly think we all (myself included) stand to benefit from practices of daily gratitude.

This is a far cry from saying that gratitude is a cure for depression, however.

Gratitude is not a cure-all for depression or any other form of mental illness; it’s a practice or discipline that, when used mindfully, can support feelings of happiness.  

Problem is, we don’t always use or talk about gratitude in the most mindful of ways. My conversation with my neighbor is a perfect example.  

As we stood outside and talked some 7 years ago, my neighbor had no way of knowing that I too had firsthand experience of clinical depression (or as I prefer to call it, existential depression).

He didn’t know that I suffered through a roughly year-long bought of depression that culminated in me quitting my job without even having anything else lined up. (Certainly not the wisest move I’ve ever made, but that’s depression for you, I guess. When you feel so miserable, exhausted and stuck, you sometimes make rash decisions. At least I did.) 

No, he didn’t know any of this.

But in a way, it didn’t really matter. As he instructed me how anyone can pull themselves out of depression, it still felt as though he was telling me personally that I wouldn’t have struggled with depression in the way that I did if only I had been more thankful for the little things in life.

It felt like my neighbor was telling me that I was the cause of my depression—that I was suffering because I simply wasn’t grateful enough.

How do you help someone who is depressed?

Even years after my depression had lifted, my neighbor’s “cure” managed to make me feel worse, not better.

But if telling someone the cure for depression isn’t the answer, what is? How can you support important people in your life as they struggle with depression?

For starters, resist the urge to instruct. Never try to tell someone how to feel better. Even if it’s something that’s worked for you, it’s simply not helpful.

Instead, focus on just being there for the person and listening. If you must, ask questions. But keep your focus on trying to understand what the other person is feeling. Grilling someone about their depression is not helpful either.

Lastly, be mindful of how you’re showing up. Ask yourself, for example, “If I were the one feeling depressed and someone said X to me, would it make me feel better or worse?”

If there’s even a trace of doubt that someone else saying this thing to you would genuinely make you feel better, just don’t say it.

Are you or someone you know struggling with depression? Contact Modern Era Counseling today to get the help you deserve.

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