Monday, October 12, 2015

How to help someone who's struggling with depression

I'm currently in the mIddle of a pretty bad period of depression. Not as bad as when I was depressed about YKW, which is good, but I'm having more difficulty coping bc I don't live as close to my friends & family now as I did when I was going through my divorce. Having a support system is really important & I know I'm not helping myself bc I don't ask for help. But part of why I don't ask for help is bc people feel uncomfortable when you call & say, "my mental health has deteriorated recently & I need some support." It can also be difficult to lean on people bc they may not know how to help someone with depression. The natural inclination is to try to fix it, to ask questions about what's wrong, or to try to encourage them to have fun. None of those things are wrong, necessarily, but they may not be what's needed at the time. So, as someone who has dealt with depression most of my life, here are some things that people have done for me that really helped when I was struggling.

1. Be there for them. I don't mean just in an emotional way, although if they need that, by all means. I am talking about physically being present with them. That's all. Sometimes, when I'm struggling, I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to go do things, I don't want to feel obligated to pretend I'm okay, I just want to sit & watch tv, but I don't want to do it alone. As the friend in this situation, this is probably boring & possibly uncomfortable & not how you'd choose to spend time, sitting on the couch w/ a depressed person, but to the depressed person, it's HUGE. Sometimes, we just want someone to sit with us bc part of our depression is feeling lonely & uncared for. By being willing to physically just be there for them, it can really help.

2. Invite yourself over. Don't wait until the person asks for your company, bc they may not feel like they can ask, especially if they are in need of #1. "Hey will you come over & just sit on my couch with me?" We don't always feel like we can ask people to be with us when we know we're not going to be much fun. We don't want to drag others down & we assume our depression will make you feel bad. So we don't reach out. So call & say, "I'm coming over on Saturday." They may initially protest bc they worry you'll be expecting them to be fun company, but if you insist, they'll finally relent bc usually they do want your company.

3. Invite them to do things. Again, don't wait for them to reach out. And be prepared to have to do things close to their location and/or have to go pick them up. Depression robs a person of their motivation & even small tasks seem huge & impossible. So, even if they agree to get together, if it's far away or they have to drive themselves, they may end up backing out. If you control picking them up or make it easy by doing things closer to them, it's less likely they can back out. They aren't backing out bc they don't want to go, but bc it feels too overwhelming to get into the car & drive.

4. Understand that depression is a form of pain & treat the person accordingly. The things we say to depressed people are awful & we would never say them to people in physical pain. Imagine your friend had been in a terrible accident & lost their arm. The pain is intense & overwhelming for your friend. Would you look at them and say, "Try to focus on the positive-it could always be worse! You could have lost a leg, too." What about, "Someone somewhere has it worse than you, they lost both arms. Be grateful for what you have." Or the platitudes, "This will pass eventually," "time heals all wounds," or "you'll be okay eventually." Those things may all be true, but when your friend is in extreme agony bc of the pain from losing their arm, it's absurd to say things like that to them. The same is true for someone with depression. The pain is different, but can be just as real & intense. So, don't say things like that. It doesn't help at all. We know you mean well, but it makes things worse bc it minimizes the pain we feel. Find other ways to express your support.
"I won't leave you."
"I'm here."
"I'm so sorry you are going through this."
"What do you need right now?"
"I love you."

5. Don't expect them to act normal. Depression makes it hard to be our normal selves. It takes over every thought in our heads & every emotion. So when we are together, please don't expect me to be my normal self. If I'm not laughing or talking or it seems like I'm not enjoying myself, just let it be. I am grateful to be out w/ you, but it's too hard to fight off the depression all the time & pretend to be happy when I'm not. So, let me just be the way I am at that moment. Just like a person with a broken leg needs some accommodations while they are healing, so does the depressed person. A lot of why we don't actively seek out the company of others is bc we know our sadness makes you uncomfortable, so we know we'll have to fake feeling okay. And that can seem like an insurmountable task. So we don't spend time with people, even though we may want to, bc we can't put on a happy face. In order to help us, let us be whatever we are at that time. Don't try to get us to be normal or participate more. Just let us be there & having as much fun as we can at that time.

6. Don't expect us to want to talk about it. The kindest thing you can do is not force the person to discuss why they feel the way they do. They may not know why. Or they do know but talking about it makes the pain worse, so they don't want to talk about it. Simply say, "We don't have to talk about why you are feeling this way right now, but if you decide you want to talk, I will listen."

7. Don't tell us how to fix it. Yoga, exercise, finding a hobby, focusing on good things, mindfulness, meditation, therapy, medication, being around people, counting your blessings...We already know all the ways to "combat" depression. We may not be in a place where we can take those steps, however. Or we may already be doing them. Or we may have already tried them. Or we may not feel like they will help us. The bottom line is we know what the advice is to deal with depression. We don't need to hear it again. A better idea would be to ask, "What things have you been doing to try to alleviate some of your pain?" And then ask if they want you to join in on an activity they have been doing. "You've said you've been going out for a walk every day. Do you want to go for a walk together?" The combination of an activity they've been doing to self-soothe plus a supportive person is double the positive effects.

8. Check up on them. Randomly drop by to see how they are. Send them a text throughout the week reminding them that you're thinking of them & you're here if they want to talk (but it's ok if they don't). Send them an actual card in the mail. My mom did this when I was going through my divorce & she still does it. It brightens even the darkest day, bc I know she took the time to find a card, write me a little message, find a stamp, & put it in the mail for me. Leave a little note on their desk at work. Tell them often that you love them. Depression has a way of convincing us that we are unwanted, or more often for me, that I am forgotten. I struggle a lot with feeling like people only like me when I'm around, like a novelty or something. I know people care about me, but depression convinces me that they only care when I'm around, that when I'm not around no one ever thinks about me or  cares about me. So, let the depressed person know that you think of them when you're not together. It will go a long way. It's a simple thing that can dramatically lessen their sadness. I have recently received a text from 2 of my friends, one of whom I don't see very often at all, telling me they love me & are thinking about me. It's helped a lot to hear that. So, even if it's just an email, a text, a call, a card, check up on them & let them know that they are in your thoughts even when you're not together.

Those are the ones I can think of now. There might be more that will come to me later on and I'll update it. But these tips are a start.


  1. Lots of helpful hints. I have a friend who is going through this and I've said plenty of thing that at the time seemed right but in retrospect were rather insensitive. The urge to just want people to get it together or move past these times is so strong that your words sometimes make light of the situation and the way they perceive things. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anonymous11:36 AM

    I hope you can soon pull yourself out of this funk you are in. Life is a challenge. I am following your tweets and cheering for you. It seems like you are a great litigator, so focus on your career. With your law degree, every day you go to work and help someone who needs help. That is a wonderful life!

  3. Anonymous8:31 PM

    These are excellent tips :) And just so's you know, I'm praying for you, kiddo. Do you read The Bloggess? She's one of us. Ally Brosh is another one of my favorites. Her blog is hysterical, but she's going through some paralyzing stuff, too:
    Oh, and by the way... you are amazing. And very loved. Even from far away in NY :)

  4. Hello,
    Depression is a serious medical condition . If you have a friend who is suffering from depression, you may be unsure about what you should do to help. There are several ways that you can help a friend who is suffering from depression, from encouraging them to get treatment to building them up with kind words.
    1.Watch for symptoms of depression in your friend.
    2.Encourage your friend to talk to a doctor.
    3.Encourage your friend every day.
    4.Let your friend know that you are there for them.
    5.Plan some fun outings together.
    6.Tell him to take a yoga class. book and so on.
    thanks to all.