Q&A with Dr. Gary McClain

Get to know our expert as he shares some of his best advice about depression.

Q&A with Dr. Gary McClain

By Depression Connect StaffA Published at November 28, 2017 Views 20,321 Comments 5 Likes 3

Gary McClain, PhD, is a research consultant, author, speaker and licensed counselor. But to you, he’s probably best known as simply “Dr. Gary.” 

Since spring 2010, Dr. Gary has been an active member of several Connect communities, providing invaluable advice especially around the emotional impact of chronic illness. Now we'd like you to know a little more about the good doctor, and read his advice about three key depression questions.

Gary received a master’s and doctoral degree in clinical psychology and education, and is a licensed counselor in New York as well as a certified life coach. His career has spanned the health industry, including work as a counselor in a substance abuse program, a health educator, a corporate trainer and in advertising and healthcare market research. He currently has a practice in New York City, where his main focus is working with individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical diagnoses and their family members. He maintains a website for newly-diagnosed patients and also works with adults going through life transitions, like career and relationship changes and grief.  

When Gary was working in healthcare market research, he spent a lot of time talking to patients and to healthcare professionals. He says he realized how people experiencing depression aren’t getting what they need in terms of emotional support, are feeling misunderstood and stigmatized and, all too often, not receiving adequate treatment. Gary wanted to do something about that. He wanted to go back to his roots as a mental health practitioner. He says being part of the Connect community has provided him that opportunity to reach out and connect with people. 

In his free time, Gary enjoys staying active, taking long walks and going to the gym. He reads like crazy – psychology books, popular novels, and the classics – and likes to go to movies and watch them at home. And, he adds, “I unwind by catching up with friends on Connect sites – honest!”

We’ve asked Gary a few key questions about depression.

Q: How can we help family, friends and coworkers understand what it’s like to live with depression?

There are a lot of ways to help the people in your life to understand what it’s like to live with depression.

You can sit down and have a talk with them about what your life is like, the challenges you face. You can explain why you might behave or respond in certain ways when you are feeling depressed. That it is the depression and not them. You can talk to them about your treatment and how it helps. You can explain how depression develops. I call this “patient” education, because educating people who have no experience with depression sure can require a lot of patience.

One thing that the people in your life may need is to hear from you what you want, need, expect from them. They may be feeling helpless in that not only do they not understand your depression, but they also don’t know what they should say or do. They don’t want you to feel like they don’t care, for example, but they also don’t want to say something “stupid” or that might be hurtful. They may need some reassurance that you aren’t “breakable,” that you just need them to be around, to show some concern, to be a good listener, to let you know they care. And that you don’t need them to “therapize” or fix you. Just be there. 

It can also help to use teachable moments. When someone in your life says something that isn’t supportive, you might at that moment gently let him or her know how what they said made you feel, and then let them know what would have been more helpful. Or when they say something that really helped, tell them how their words or actions helped you. Or when you are having a hard time, let them know how you are feeling and why, and what they could do to help. Communicate!   

Depression can be like an elephant in the room. Everybody knows it’s there but no one knows how to talk about it, so they try to move around pretending it’s not there and trying not to bump into it. Communication begins with acknowledging that it’s there, and how you can work together to deal with it. 

Q: How would you suggest dealing with people who are unsupportive? For example, someone who tells you to “just snap out of it” or that “it’s all in your head.”

There is nothing more hurtful for a depressed person than to be basically told to get over it. If only it was that simple. Who would choose to feel this way? 

But when dealing with insensitive people, it’s important to not assume that they mean harm. To give them the benefit of a doubt.

Having a person you care about who is suffering from a chronic condition like depression can make you feel helpless. Helplessness doesn’t bring out the best in people. And so that “get over it” can be a way of saying: “I feel really bad about what’s going on with you and I don’t want to feel this way. Can’t you make it go away so that I don’t have to feel so helpless?” So the get over it may be more about them than about you. Helplessness causes fear, and some people strike out against others when they are fearful. 

It comes out of lack of understanding, but not necessarily a desire to be hurtful. So again, opening up the communication, providing education and teachable moments, can help. Reassure them that your condition is treatable and you are being treated. 

You might even consider asking people who are not supportive but who you need to be, like a family member, to accompany you to the office of your physician or therapist, and have a conversation together. 

But let’s face it, there are also people who just don’t get depression, don’t want to be inconvenienced, are afraid of emotions or don’t want their happy parade rained on by someone who is not feeling happy. 

It’s important for a person suffering from depression to bring as many supportive people as possible into their lives, to balance out the negative people with people who are willing and able to be on their team. This means knowing who can be supportive and reaching out to them. 

Gently but firmly tell them that you can’t just snap out of depression, that their comments are hurtful and not helpful, that if they can’t understand how you feel, that you would rather they keep their opinions to themselves. You have a right to stand up for yourself and not be disrespected by others. 

Take care of yourself by avoiding people who are not supportive, when you can, by not placing yourself in situation in which you know you will not be treated well.  

Some acceptance of the limitations of other people, some compassion, can also help.  We don’t have control over how others choose to think, feel or behave. To try to change people who won’t change is unfortunately a fight not worth fighting. People can just be limited, afraid of strong emotions in themselves and in others, and because of that they miss so many opportunities to more involved in life! 

Take care of yourself, stay positive, maintain compliance with your treatment program, focus on what’s working in your life, and the people who can be supportive. Focus on your own self-care – eyes on the prize. Refuse to be brought down by unhelpful people. 

Q: We know staying social is an important part of combating depression. What two tips would you offer for combating isolation and staying social?

Depression is a double whammy. It tells you how badly you feel. And it tells you that you can’t do anything to feel better. The result is that it is common to just want to be alone. But isolation perpetuates the feelings of depression.

I always encourage my clients facing depression to build in some socialization. Give yourself small but achievable goals. 

This might mean one touch-base daily with a supportive person, maybe a friend or family member who can spend a little time with you, either in person or by phone, catching up with each other’s days. Something that you commit to doing every day to avoid isolation and to feel supported. Spending some time on a Connect board can be a good way to get some daily support. 

Another goal might be one social event per week. This might mean calling a friend or family member, or a co-worker, and asking them to do something with you, like have coffee, see a movie, do some shopping, something you might both enjoy. It’s one step at a time, and one social event can turn into two, and then three. 

Pursuing an interest can also be a good way to combat isolation while also giving your mind something new to work on. Taking a class, volunteering, joining a club, going to the gym, becoming part of a religious group… you may have to push yourself to get started, but these kinds of activities can help to bring you out of yourself and into contact with others who share your interests and also want to make connections with people. And once you build these activities into your routine, and become accountable to people who depend on you, they become part of your support network and help to keep you social. 

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