One way that my family tries to help me through depression is to make sure someone is always with me. When I had my breakdown a couple years ago, my parents and wife and sister made sure I was never alone.
I’m pretty sure they primarily did this so that I wouldn’t be able to harm myself. However, it was equally valued in that it provided me with company when I was at my lowest points.
I think there is an important distinction to be made here, one that is probably easy to understand but extremely difficult to implement for a loved one going through a major depressive spell. That distinction is that being alone does not necessarily mean you are lonely, and being with someone doesn’t mean you aren’t lonely.
I’m sure we have all felt alone in a crowded room, and I am sure most of us find our deepest peace when we are completely alone.
The same is true of depression.
Personally, I love to be alone when I am depressed. It isn’t always good for me because I don’t always make good decisions or I sometimes push my mood deeper into it. But I do love it. There is nothing more satisfying to me then to be lying under the covers at 1:30pm with the blinds drawn and nothing around me. I cannot describe it.
I know that being alone and depressed is a comfortable place for me, because I have experienced so much of it in my life. But I also know that sometimes being alone is actually the best thing for my depression. I can make all the decisions myself. I cannot rely on anyone. It is me or nothing. And a lot of the time that is very motivating, especially when nothing else is.
I find that when you add other factors on top of being alone that things can get rough. Alone and drunk, alone and emotional, alone and suicidal, those are bad combinations. But other people don’t know when those other things are a factor. That is what makes it difficult to let someone be alone when they have had a suicidal episode. When will it turn violent? When is it too much? Things can change really quickly. 80% of suicide attempts occur within thirty minutes of first ideation. Time is short. I can’t blame anyone for taking the safest path.
The other side of this coin is lonely and surrounded by people. It isn’t really dangerous as long as you continue to be with people. However, feeling alone while with people can make your depression worse. You can feel even more like an outsider, even more like a loser, even more like people don’t care. And all of that can lead to increased suicidal thoughts when you finally get alone. I have found in my life that my most profound moments of depression have occurred immediately after (or directly before) a large gathering. The feeling of loneliness is most profound when you are in a group. It is much like a vicious cycle because your depression will give people the feeling you want to be alone, and people avoiding you will feed your depression.
So there is a difficult balance that needs to be struck. Just because I am alone and depressed doesn’t mean I’m in danger, and just because I am social and depressed doesn’t mean I am safe. I have found that consistently being around a handful of close friends or relatives is the best way to wade through a major depressive episode.