Someone close to me swears by the value of buying new underwear to make you feel like a million bucks. She is pretty convinced that the nicer your undergarments, the nicer your outlook on life will be. So from time to time she will go on a shopping binge where she will treat herself to a new set of underthings, designed to lift her spirits and make those around her appreciate her even more (although they will be none the wiser as to the reasons for her newfound happiness).

Another friend is a sock fanatic and has multiple drawers full of socks. It’s not that this person takes particular joy in actually wearing the socks, and it isn’t like they coordinate with outfits or are of a certain brand or quality. But there is something in the rush of the buying that makes him inordinately happy, so he buys with abandon and that temporarily lifts his mood.

But a conversation with one of my dearest friends a few days ago brought all of these “fixes” into perspective. This person suffers from seasonal depression. When he is sad it is more than a feeling of, “Gee maybe I should go out for ice cream and cheer up…”. it’s worse than, “Oh rats, someone took the parking spot I wanted and now I have to walk a few extra steps. I’m so bummed…”. Real depression is so pervasive and so heavy it isn’t something you can cure with a nice outfit or a decadent treat. As much as he wants to be out from under it, he is just buried by it.

It’s so tempting to look at someone in the throes of depression and offer suggestions. Have you tried exercise? Do you get enough vitamins? Maybe you should listen to some music! (Insert your perkiest voice for maximum effect!) Sleep less! Sleep more! Wear brighter colors! Get out into the nice weather!

I could go on and on but the point is the same. For those of us on the outside, it is both seductive to try to fix and too easy to oversimplify. To compare sadness to depression is to like comparing a splinter to a nail gun being shot through your face. Yes, I think true depression is that bad.

So what is there to do? For those of us who aren’t trained mental health professionals, I think the best thing to do is just to be there. Check in. Check on. Don’t leave people you care about to hang out in the breeze because you don’t know what to say or do, or because it can be too draining. Just say hello. Don’t stop showing up. Don’t smother someone, but the worst thing for a person with depression is the isolation that comes along with it. So don’t let them be alone in their misery. Have their back. Have their front. Have their side. Do what it takes to be the person who doesn’t let them down.

And remember that if depression could be fixed by a new CD you’d have a lot more music and a lot more easy solutions in the world.

I wish it was that simple.