Depression is real. It’s not just being in a bad mood or feeling down for a few days. To those who suffer it’s like living in a deep, dark, desolate place where you cannot see any light. Nothing brings you joy and you get behind on life.
This isolating illness has been a part of my life since elementary school and the things people have told me over the years in regard to being sick are astonishing. I’m grateful we are currently experiencing a time of transparency and education, as most of my life there has been shame and suffering.
There are things you can do to help a friend or loved one fighting depression. The most important thing is to remain available, open-minded, and gentle. Another way to help? Know not what to say, as I’ve listed below.
1.“What’s the matter?”
Say this to me during a depressive episode and I’ll probably answer “Only everything!” or “Nothing”. Sometimes there is an event that acts as a catalyst, perhaps a big change like a move or a graduation. Other times life can be going amazing and the dark cloud appears.If you sense your friend or loved one is hurting, ask if they’d like to talk: “You seem pensive. Is there anything you’d like to get off your chest?” Perhaps offer to bring over pizza and get your laugh on with Netflix. Listen if they need to talk and put on a comedy if they need a distraction. Make sure they know you’ve got their back.
2. “It’s not that bad.”
Don’t. Just don’t. Sometimes when I’m spiraling and trying to ground myself I think, “I’m alive, I have food, I have a roof over my head, etc.”, but that means nothing to someone who feels like the Earth has swallowed them whole.When you say this to someone who is teetering on the edge of losing their ever-loving-mind such apathy can send them over. They think, “They’re right – it’s not that bad. What the hell am I freaking out about? I must be crazy!” The hateful and shameful inner-dialogue continues. Instead try, “I can see you’re hurting. Please know I’m here when you need me. I love you.”
3. “But you have just got a promotion/got married/had a baby.”
Many people without depression don’t realize that it can strike at any time. A prime example of this is postpartum depression. Even with all the oxytocin and beautiful miracle right before them, one may find themselves in a very dark place. Someone could have just won the lottery and be plagued with depressive and harmful thoughts.An empathic friend doesn’t assume someone is doing well because of otherwise joyful circumstances and they never judge. If you sense a friend is going through a hard time following a celebratory life event, simply ask how everything is going. Sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can’t.If you notice a new mom in your life is fighting postpartum depression, let her know she’s not alone and urge her to seek help. Offer to take the baby while she seeks help or go with her. With all friends fighting depression, look them in the eyes and tell them “I’m here for you.” It could be encouragement they need to seek help or even save their life.
4. “Are you mad at me?”
Don’t make it about you. Even if you think someone is mad at you, I can’t think of it ever being a good idea to ask someone this question. If someone is mad at you, you probably know it and you probably know why. But if you find yourself questioning, just call up the friend and ask how they are doing. You should be able to tell.By asking questions like “Have I done something wrong?” or “Do you hate me?” you not only make everything about you, but you embarrass the hell out of your friend. They think, “Oh great, now my friend hates me” and it’s a whole other thing. Don’t do that to your friend. Don’t make them question themselves and their relationships more than they already do. It’s selfish, even if you don’t mean to be.If you think your friend may be mad at you, ask them to meet up for dinner or drinks. If they say they’re busy, ask them to let you know when you can meet because you really want to catch up. If they drop the ball, offer to bring dinner over so you can catch up at their convenience. If you get nothing and the friendship means something to you, send them flowers or a card letting them know how much they mean to you. No response? Your relationship is on the rocks.
Even at my most depressed I can’t imagine not contacting someone who went out of their way to make me feel special. If anything, it would be the one thing that could bring me out of the dark if even for a day.
5. “Don’t tell anyone.”
I was told by more than one authoritative figure growing up that I shouldn’t tell anyone about my “issues” and that life was mostly crappy. Turns out those people also battle depression but refuse to get help. It is some of the worst advice and I’ve ever gotten and could have led me to the point of no return. Thankfully, I did tell someone and sought help.If someone tells you they’re battling depression, tell them they’re not alone and encourage them to seek help. Tell them there is nothing wrong with them and that many people with depression live successful lives.Check in with them often; maybe send a text every couple of days telling them you’re thinking of them or recalling an inside joke. Let them know you care.
Many of us find that after opening up in therapy or to a friend or loved one, we feel obligated to share, like I am now. Kristen Bell’s recent comments on anxiety and depression changed the tide for me. I can look at her and see so many beautiful attributes and it makes me realize that I have those as well, and that I am not my illness. I am incredibly grateful for her story and I’m certain she is saving lives and relationships.
Depression can be debilitating, but we live in resource-rich time. It’s important that we let those we love who are having a difficult time know that therapy is great for everyone and that treatment works. In general it is a good rule of thumb to approach everyone you meet in life with compassion and empathy, and to understand that we do not know their struggles.
If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please text “GO” to 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.