helping a friend with depression

there was an interesting post a few days ago on PsychCentral, predicting that january 21st – yesterday – would be the most depressing day of the year, according to cliff arnall. or maybe not. maybe it’s in october.

whatever it is, the most interesting part of that article to me was that they also touched on the fact that there are so many people out there who don’t feel good, and might very likely be depressed, but don’t go and look for help for it.

it saddens me to see people suffering with symptoms of depression, suffering in silence, when there is help available. of course part of being depressed can often include difficulties with

  • believing that anything or anyone can help
  • being motivated to reach out for help
  • having enough energy to get help

there are so many depression treatments out there. many of them work. and in there: many of the resources are inside of us.

but today, let’s ask the question, how can the depressed person get there? specifically, if we have a friend who is battling with depression, how can we help him or her to reach for whatever it is that’ll help them get better? there were already a few suggestions in a previous post; but since this is such an important and timely topic, let’s talk a bit more about it.

i say just be a friend. just hang out with them. don’t tiptoe around them but do respect where they are emotionally. for example, feel free to ask them if they want to go for a walk with you but don’t drown them in your enthusiasm: “but it’s so beautiful out! you’ll love it, for sure!” people who are depressed often feel nobody understands how they feel, and raining happy-happy feelings on them will deepen that feeling.

when you hang around long enough, an opportunity might arise when you might be able to help them reach out. your friend might say, “well, maybe i should go see a doctor.” you can then casually mention that you could drive them. again, i recommend against jumping on your friend, “yes! great! let’s go right now!” depression often feels like your very foundations are crumbling. if your approach to your friend is too hale and hearty, it might make the foundations feel even tremblier.

if you’re really concerned about your friend, don’t hesitate to honestly share this with them. make sure that you honour both your and your friend’s feelings. you could ask your friend first whether it’s okay for you to tell them what’s on your mind. take their reply seriously. if they say, “no, i can’t hear that right now,” back off. most likely they’ll show a certain indifference.

if you feel you have a go-ahead, tell them how you feel. yes, that’s how you feel, not what they should do. big difference. most likely, too, if you’re honest with yourself, one of the reasons why you want them to go to a doctor is so that you can feel better. if that’s the case, lay it all out on the table. once again, talk about how you feel, how you’re feeling helpless or scared or confused. and then state to them that only they know what’s best for them, that you can’t force them to make any decisions.

if you don’t know what else to do, and particularly if you’re afraid your friend is actively suicidal, call a hotline.

have you ever helped someone who was dealing with depression? have you ever been helped? what worked? what didn’t?

10 thoughts on “helping a friend with depression

  1. Siro

    What helps?

    Friends and family not giving up on me. Friends and family that keep on trying to make contact with me, telling me they love me no matter what. Therapists that acknowledge the pain and agony, but don’t let me bury myself in it.

    “I see you, you’re having a terrible time now. I’m here for you, what can we do to make things better?”

  2. Marc Olmsted

    Coming from the alcoholic perspective, I find it helpful to think of depression as a disease with an intelligence and an agenda. It wants to survive and will resist any attempt to dislodge it. That can be very frustrating when you are trying to help someone, as they will often be much more amenable to the suggetions that will least likely work, and most resistant to what may well help. A wise friend reminded me that depression will often deliver up the message that if you just spend another 30 minutes thinking about it, you will find the magic key to make it lift. Of course, the exact opposite is what occurs.

  3. isabella mori

    hi marc, and thanks again for a very interesting comment. i’m really glad we met here in the blogosphere!

    there are just so many ways of dealing with depression – which makes sense because we are all unique. externalizing depression as some entity of its own can often be helpful – actually, there is some research that suggests that people who externalize unpleasant experiences tend to be happier.

    thinking “about” depression when you’re depressed – yes, i don’t know if i’ve ever seen that work. generally, while depressed, our mental activity often veers into brooding, and that is just a downwards spiral, similar to what you just described.

    now thinking “with” depression, or thinking ourselves “out of depression” – that’s a different story. material for another post.

  4. Rhei, writer

    To get rid of depression, one must have a balance life. We all might be busy with our daily chores but we must set dates where we could create a bond with our family, friends and to our special someone. Relaxation should be done once a week so that we could perceive things by the following week positively.

    Rhei, writer’s last blog post..An Incredible Opportunity for 100 People – Click Play to Watch this Sneak Peak Video then Get Ready for Feb 1st

  5. isabella mori

    rhei, thanks for stopping by!

    the suggestions of balance, bonding and relaxation are great. however, in my experience, “must” is one of the worst words one can use with someone who is depressed …

  6. Siro

    The word must IS really the worst word. When depressed I think most people are all too able to drown themselves with that word. And it makes you even more depressed when you are not able to do the musts, it just confirms your total failuer.

    I’m nor Englishspeaking, I’m having trouble finding the words. I don’t think there is an easy solution to cure depression. But I do believe in compassion and empathy.

  7. isabella mori

    @siro, thanks for expanding on the effect of the word “must”!

    @wendi, i just got your comment from a few days ago. it was about to be swallowed by my spam program …

    thanks for pointing to your post, i remember it – what you say there is very important!

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