Depression can manifest itself differently in everyone – some may have highs and lows, some may cry routinely, others may feel void of emotion. As a friend, it can hurt seeing a person you love so much suffer inside their own head, particularly when the ways to help them are not always clear. Below is a list of five things you can do to try and make their lives feel a little brighter. This should by no means be taken as a definitive method, the most important thing is to take your cues from your friend and be responsive to them and their needs, but it’s a start.
- Be present – Support can take many forms, but consistency is key. This can mean letting your friend cancel plans, coming over with food, a hug or helping hand and providing loving, non-demanding company. Regularly invite them to do things with you, even if they say no every time. Without being dogmatic, ask them if they’re okay, then ask again to show you genuinely care about their response. Be around and don’t back down; depression can be isolating enough, don’t let them cut themselves off from you.
- Listen more and talk less. Listening, rather than hearing, is more difficult than it may seem. People struggling with depression will often (incorrectly) believe they are a burden, not wanting to weigh others down by talking about how they’re feeling. Our natural instinct can be to try and swoop in, giving prescriptive lists of things they can do to help themselves or relating their experiences to yours. Instead, be willing to listen as they cry or keep them company in their room; offering continual support will reassure them and encourage them to talk more about their discomfort.
- Recognise the importance of the language you’re using. In situations where you’re unsure of what to say it is all too easy to say some very basic and invalidating things which minimise how your friend is feeling. Whilst this is never out of malice or intention to shut the person down, it can be an unfortunate side effect of using the wrong language. Try to think about what you might want to hear if the roles were reversed, but above all, be kind. At the end of this piece is a list of phrases you may wish to consider using to ensure you are facilitating as much of a discussion as possible.
- Educate yourself. This is particularly important if you are lucky enough to have never suffered with your own mental health in the past. No one is expecting you to be an expert, but do a bit of reading, try and understand the symptoms and triggers your friend may be experiencing. This will also help you to help them, both in terms of your actions and the way you talk to them when they are feeling particularly low.
- Help them create and utilise healthy coping mechanisms. There is a difference between fixing someone’s problems and lovingly supporting them through tough times. Rather than dictating to them what they should try, sit down and discuss the things they could attempt to incorporate into their everyday routine. This may include trying to get dressed in the morning, making regular meals or spending 20 minutes doing something they enjoy each day. Progress will be slow and steady so don’t expect them to integrate all these things in at once, but even improving one thing about their day could help them feel better.
Ultimately, we cannot protect or prevent our friends from hitting rock bottom, but we can be there to help pick up the pieces when they fall. Breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs and being there beside them to help that growth is all and everything you can do.