Building a Support System When You Struggle with Chronic Depression & Anxiety

Photo by Madison Lavern.

The year 2020 seems to be throwing everyone for a loop. With growing civil unrest, political upheavals, and the Covid-19 pandemic, psychologists are noticing a growing upward trend of clients struggling with anxiety and depression. Mental health is so important, now more so than ever because of the isolation and routine changes that the COVID pandemic has forced.

This past week, my therapist informed me she was leaving her position for something new, and she would no longer be seeing clients, triggering a pretty severe depressive episode in me.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve built a sound support system full of people who have been trained to help me when my depression and anxiety are becoming too overwhelming for me to handle independently. In addition to my therapist, I lean on my friends and family for additional support when I need it. If you suffer from chronic mental health issues, below are a few ways you can build up your support system plan to help see you through those dark days.

Think about what falls through the cracks during a depressive episode.

We all have things that fall to the wayside when we’re feeling down. It’s a ubiquitous symptom of depression and anxiety. For me, that includes not eating meals regularly, forgetting to take my medications, refusing to go to therapy (even though I know it’s beneficial), and my communication comes to a halt. Perhaps for you, it might be struggling to find the motivation to get dressed or remembering to move once a day for exercise. Whatever the obstacle is, write it down on a new list.

List out the people in your life that would be great supporters.

These should include people you speak to frequently, who are observant and care about your well-being, and who have proven to be an ally when you have gone through past depressive episodes (knowingly or not). My husband, mother, therapist, and two best friends are all at the top of my list as my most reliable supporters.

Being open and vulnerable with something as precious as your mental health can be scary. Make sure you are entirely comfortable with your support team. If you can’t fully trust someone when you’re not in a depressive episode, you most likely will not reach out to them when you’re at a low point.

Seek out books that understand things from your point of view

When I was struggling with my writing, I worked with my therapist to find books that explored how depression affects creativity. It was so nice getting a fresh perspective on the issue. I pulled tips from the book and came up with a way to implement them in my own life. I then shared my findings with my friends and family so they could learn alongside me.

If you’re looking for a book to start with, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a popular pick.

Find your tribe online.

Having a mental illness can be isolating because sometimes it is hard for our loved ones to understand how significant an impact the condition can have on our daily lives. We often don’t want to overload the caregivers in our lives, so we tend to keep our feelings to ourselves. Finding a community of like-minded people who have experience with depression and anxiety can be a fantastic outlet when you are struggling to cope. They will often give support, offer tips for managing and navigating life with mental health issues.

Put your research and lists together.

Next, reach out to the list you’ve created of people who can support you. Explain in a way that you are comfortable with that you would like their help staying healthy. Ask them to be your accountability buddy when they notice that you are beginning to fall through the cracks. And all of your support eggs don’t have to be one basket. Two of my friends know that when they call & text me and I don’t get back to them after a few attempts that something is wrong and they need to implement the plan. The plan is for them to harass me until I pick up. (Don’t laugh, it works!)

I have another friend who won’t let me quit therapy and are always prepared with a pep talk should I need it. And all of my family knows that if I don’t answer a phone call or it takes me a few days, not to guilt me when I do resurface. The lack of guilt helps my anxiety, which is usually sky-high during and immediately after an episode. I’m always appreciative as I try to navigate catching up on missed emails, assignments, household chores, etc. that have fallen behind due to my depression.

Don’t Give Up

Hopefully, these tips can help you get started on your support system plan. And don’t be hard on yourself if it takes you some time to work out who can help with what. Taking care of your mental and emotional health is a lifetime journey, so there is no rush. Expect that your plan will change as your needs change and keep things flexible. And remember, having to have this plan in your life is nothing to be ashamed about. As writer Linda Poindexter once said, “One small crack does not mean that you are broken, it means that you were put to the test, and you didn’t fall apart.”

Note: If you’re struggling with a mental illness, I strongly recommend you seek help from a professional therapist in addition to online support groups. And remember, if you’re in crisis, call 911 or a support line like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (+1 (800) 273–8255).

Alisha Howard-Chamat is a freelance writer and author of the YA book, Awakener. You can find her around the web @AlishaChamat and at www.alishamwrites.com.

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