BEIJING – On January 4, 2020, David Schmidt (pictured below), an advocate for mental health and a passionate supporter of CandleX, passed away. Throughout his life, David traveled around the world and spent many years in China.
In 2019, Xiaojie visited David in Tecumseh, Michigan, USA, and seized on the chance to ask David’s brother, Don, about his personal experience caring for and supporting David when he was suffering from depression. You can watch the full interview here.
The interview with Don touches upon a number of key topics of universal value to our understanding of depression. It offers us an insight into two different but interrelated experiences of mental illness, i.e. the perspective of the person suffering, and the perspective of a loved one trying to help the sufferer. The former is introduced to us directly by David, through his own personal experience. The latter point of view is embodied and presented by his brother Don.
The following points are touched upon in the video:
· the personal and environmental factors that may contribute to the onset of depression
· some useful coping strategies to adopt when in depression, especially when moving abroad and/or back home
· how to care for and support someone with depression
· how to take care of yourself when helping someone who is struggling with a mental illness
The two different experiences provide bidirectional insights – from the inside to the outside and vice versa – that could facilitate better communication and increase understanding between both actors.
In terms of recommended coping strategies when suffering from depression – both abroad and back home – suggestions include:
· Being realistic, and not falling prey to expectations that are too high – from yourself as well as from the surrounding environment.
· Remember that putting too much pressure on yourself can easily result in feelings of disappointment and frustration. It is much better to approach challenges step by step
· Seeking help and support from relatives and loved ones, if possible
· Socializing and reaching out to a local support group
· Trying to better communicate with loved ones in order to decrease stress and avert misunderstanding
The part on caring and supporting someone with depression is led by Don, and exemplified by David’s sister Mary. She helps us sketch the following takeaways:
· Listen, listen, listen, as sometimes doing nothing but simply listening is both the only and best thing one can do
· If possible, take care of some simple yet essential daily tasks such as cooking meals, doing laundry, going to the doctor, etc
· Focus less on problem-solution dynamics and more on open, compassionate and sincere communication
Finally, Don warmheartedly explains how he tackled the stresses and strains he experienced when trying to help David through his hardest times – the fear, anger, and anguish deriving from the sense of hopelessness and vulnerability Don witnessed and had to deal with.
When prompted to reflect on self-care strategies when helping someone with depression, Don suggests:
· Looking for a sympathetic ‘crutch’ – a friend, partner or relative – to confide in
· Creating a supportive network to provide a ‘refill’ when spiritually and physically drained
· Accepting your powerlessness at times in order to control feelings of frustration and inadequacy
· Working to maintain a sense of mental balance
You can learn more about David’s struggle with depression in his own words here.