“Everyone comes with baggage. Find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack.” ~Unknown
I have suffered varying degrees and types of depression since I was thirteen years old, and over the years I have been on the receiving end of both good and bad support from friends.
Some understood, and some told me to “stop moaning and get over it.” Likewise, I have had friends who have struggled as acutely as I have, and throughout it all I have learned so much about what it means to be (and how to be) a friend to someone who is depressed.
Chances are, you have come into contact with depression on at least one occasion in life, whether you realize it or not. Either you've had it yourself at some point or you know someone has (even if they never told you). A lot of the time we just don't know how to act around one another or what to say.
Friendship with someone who has depression is fraught with many pitfalls. You can say the “right” thing and yet it can be completely the wrong thing at the same time. Everyone suffering with depression is different.
But here are a few general suggestions that might help.
Acknowledge their struggle.
One of the best things you can do for someone who is depressed is acknowledge their feelings and what they're going through. Offer sympathy. Tell them that you're sorry they're going through such a rough time and that you're there for them.
Offering compassion and empathy to someone who is depressed is sometimes the perfect medicine. Reassure them that you understand that they're going through a very tough time and it's okay to find things a little more difficult than usual. They're not weak; they're ill.
Don't offer platitudes.
We all do it. Times get tough and the first thing we do is reach for the quotes and platitudes that we think will help the most. But these can seem like throwaway comments with no real meaning behind them. Telling a severely depressed person to “be positive” is like telling someone with cancer to “get over it.”
Words like this will do nothing but infuriate your friend and lead to shame and guilt about their inability to get better by themselves.
Don't try and fix that person. Allow them to feel whatever it is they need to feel. If they need to get angry about a situation, don't tell them “anger solves nothing.” Tell them to feel it so they can get it out of their system.
Find out if there is something contributing to their depression (but don't criticize if there isn’t).
Sometimes there are obvious causes for someone’s depression; sometimes there aren't. If there is a particular problem that is upsetting a friend, offer to help in some capacity.
However, a lot of people feel ashamed if they're suffering from depression without any obvious reason. If that's the case, don't tell them they have “nothing to be depressed about.” One of the heaviest weights a depressed person can carry is feeling they have “no right to be depressed” when they have “such a good life.”
It can happen to the most unexpected of people.
Take the condition seriously and encourage them to get help.
There is a huge difference between feeling sad and being depressed. If you know someone who is suffering, that definition is extremely clear.
Don't dismiss their struggles by saying it will get better tomorrow. Realize that depression is a serious condition and often needs professional treatment.
Your loved one may not be ready to accept that they need help (and can be helped), but lightly planting those seeds in their mind may just convince them to seek treatment.
Likewise, offer to take them to the doctor, just as my friends did. Or, do your research and find some charities that may be helpful to them.
Listen without judgment or applying logic.
One of the worst things you can do, both for your friend and yourself (to avoid frustration), is to apply logic to a depressed person’s mind. A lot of times the person feels just as confused by their thoughts as you do.
Please try not to judge your friend if they have children and are talking about ending their lives. When you're that depressed, logic doesn’t apply. If we tell you we think our next panic attack will kill us, accept that it feels that way to us, even if we know it defies logic.
Be there in whatever form that person needs.
Sometimes your friend may want to talk about what's on their mind, and other times they may just want to go to the movies with you to try and distract themselves. Adapt and be there in whatever capacity they need in that moment. If they can only text you their thoughts instead of saying them out loud, let them.
Or, if they need you to take them out to lunch one day but a couple days later you have to go to them because they can't leave the house, don't question it. Just try and be there for them to the best of your ability in whatever way they need you at that time.
Sometimes I wanted to meet my friend for lunch and other times I couldn't leave my bed, so she lay with me in silence. Both were exactly what I craved and needed.
Be patient and accept that things have changed.
I know that you want your old friend back, and believe me, they want their old selves back as much as you do. But please accept that, for the moment, it's simply not possible.
They may have loved a drink down the pub on a Saturday night with you and your mates or a day out in the park with everyone and their children, but right now those situations are most likely extremely overwhelming to them.
If you know they want to go out but find group gatherings overwhelming, why not ask them out for a catch up on a one-on-one basis? It doesn't have to be a special occasion, just a cup of tea at a local cafe or a nice lunch somewhere quiet.
Stay connected and include them.
One of the worst things you can do is cut a depressed friend out of your social life. While they may not be able to participate in activities all the time, they still want to be included. They want to know what's going on in your life even if they can't contribute anything themselves.
Invite them to dinners with the rest of your friends or to events you might be going to. Regardless of whether they accept the invitation, they will appreciate you asking in the first place, because nobody wants to feel left out.
Look after yourself.
Despite all of the above advice, sometimes you're going to feel helpless, and that's okay. When all else fails, wanting to be there for us is truly the other thing we care about.
You must remember to look after yourself and realize that as much as you want to help your friend, you have your own life to lead and prioritizing yourself doesn't make you selfish. You can't be there around the clock when you have family and commitments of your own, but very often, knowing you are there in some capacity is enough to help.