What do you say to a depressed person? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

GETWELLcardpaintedbyTootteeChanco Pacis of Baguio
GETWELLcardpaintedbyTootteeChanco Pacis of Baguio
GET WELL card painted by Toottee Chanco Pacis of Baguio. Photos: Elizabeth Lolarga
GET WELL card painted by Toottee Chanco Pacis of Baguio. Photos: Elizabeth Lolarga

Being beautifully bipolar can be messy sometimes—we do things we shouldn’t do, say things we shouldn’t say. In our depressions we push people away, try to save them from being engulfed in the darkness that has consumed us. This mood disorder causes us to do a whole lot of sh-t we shouldn’t do. If you are also beautifully bipolar, you understand.

“Sometimes you have to start over—with a new therapist, by taking responsibility for your actions while you were manic, by reaching out to the people you pushed away when you were depressed. Sometimes you have to get dumped and move to a new place where no one knows you. And that’s okay, to start over. Sure, you are going to make more mistakes and maybe you’ll start over again and again. It’s okay.”–Elaina J. Martin  in her blog in www. psychcentral.com

When I fell and was unconscious for a spell, one of my visitors, this section’s columnist Gilda Cordero-Fernando, told my husband Rolly Fernandez, “In the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale, the Prince kissed the girl and she woke up. Rolly, kiss the girl!”

His reply that got the hospital visitors laughing was, “But what if she does wake up and slaps me?”

Sleep off

Hmmph! No wonder I chose to sleep off his entreaties in my ear to wake up.

Bedside humor, not just bedside manners, is a must during prolonged hospital confinements. A hospital, no matter how modern or how skilled the medical experts and staff are, is the most woebegone place to spend celebratory occasions like a birthday.

But then, before the hospitalization, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to celebrate anything, but was more concerned about getting my OSCA (Office of Senior Citizen Affairs) card, which my daughter Kimi promptly did while I was bedbound. That way we could avail of a discount from the hospital.

But hospitals are shrewd businesses, too. They applied the discount for the period covering the date of one’s birth to the date of discharge. The preceding days of confinement are not discounted, although technically, you’re on the threshold of 60.

A friend in Baguio earlier suggested that I do “something crazy” upon turning 60. I said, “But I am already crazy. (Talk about owning your ailment). Let me do something sane for a change.” Getting that senior citizen card was an act of sanity and sobriety, so thanks again,  Kimi.

The convalescent always welcomes familiar, comforting faces even if she isn’t at her best (not bathing for days due to all those life-supporting attachments, or not even bothering to comb her hair).

In the absence of a physical presence, get-well cards (hard copies of children’s drawings, or store-bought or handmade cards) are welcome—they are read and re-read and make one feel cherished. They feel like a hug in an envelope. The same goes for prayers for God’s healing. Don’t dismiss them; they’re the most effective weapon against the call of the dark.

But sometimes, the well-intentioned messages read like you haven’t prayed enough or don’t hang on to your faith enough, thus making you easy prey for the devil of despair. That’s when you feel like hurling the cell phone, but you aren’t even strong enough to do that.


Remember Robin Williams’ suicide? Analysts wrote that some suicides did what they did out of consideration for the family that has to cope with relapses and the high cost of keeping the mentally ill alive.

If you’ve been fed intravenously and attached to a ventilator to help you breathe, munching skills and appetite take a while to return. Soft foods, especially non-GMO soya milk (for the lactose intolerant and I had become that in my 50s) and yogurt, are appreciated.

Toottee and my code names for one another when we paint together are Toot Wah Renoir for her, Paola Picassa for me
Toottee and my code names for one another when we paint together are Toot Wah Renoir for her, Paola Picassa for me

Dr. Jean Kim, in her recent “Psychology Today” article, “6 Things You Can Say to Support Someone Who’s Depressed,” noted how some “common statements that people tell friends and loved ones in an attempt to alleviate the depressed person’s discomfort” reflect “their own unease in the face of a difficult, heart-wrenching situation. Unwittingly or not, statements that put blame on a depressed person’s willpower, lack of motivation, or negative mind frame often backfire and increase that person’s feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

“The statements sometimes come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the depression illness. It is a biopsychosocial condition that traps its victims in a circuitous broken-record mindset that creates vulnerable, despondent thinking patterns.”

Instead, Dr. Kim recommended that people tell their depressed friend or relative any or all of these:

“I’m here for you.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I like __ about you.”

“Yeah, that is lousy.”

This means, Dr. Kim wrote, that “there are often real stressors that get them down. It’s important to acknowledge those concerns when they’re brought up, so a person doesn’t feel they aren’t being heard or are being misunderstood, ignored, or forced to be artificially happy. If they don’t feel alone in seeing a problem, they feel there is potential to move forward.”

“There are ways to get through this difficult time.”

“I’ve been through it, too.”

Never tell anyone who’s in the pits, “Bakit mo ginawa ’yon? Narito naman ako…. maganda pa rin ang buhay.” Any self-respecting psychotherapist will tell you that is the height of insensitivity and tactlessness. You risk that slap on the cheek.

So, thanks again, gang, plus husband and daughters—that’s what friends and family are for. I am adopting a relaxed pace of paying your gestures not back, but forward. Love you! After all, and in the end, love is all there is.

MESSAGE reads: “I’ve been writing letters to the people that are special to me. Love, Machiko”
MESSAGE reads: “I’ve been writing letters to the people that are special to me. Love, Machiko”
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