Before helping your struggling loved one, it’s important to understand that depression is a serious condition. It can impact sleep patterns, appetite, energy, motivation, and optimism. Depression can also alter the person’s perception of themselves, making it very difficult to see themselves in a positive light. This can cause intense feelings of helplessness, shame, and hopelessness, and can lead to suicidal ideation. It will be difficult for them to connect with you and they may come off as blunt, uninterested, or even angry. Just remember, this is not your loved one acting out, it’s the depression talking. Don’t take it personally and don’t give up on them.
When a friend tells you they’re suffering from depression (or any mental illness for that matter), the most important thing for them to know is that they are not alone. Tell them that you’re there for them, you support them, and you are around if they ever need someone to talk to. Don’t ever just assume they know these things already. As I mentioned, depression can alter perception. Many people with depression fail to reach out for support because they feel that they are burdening their friends and family with their problems. Make sure you tell them you’re there to support them, and ensure they are not being a burden.
Never respond to your loved one with statements such as:
“Just snap out of it”
“It could be worse”
“You look fine”
Telling someone to “just snap out of it” implies they have a choice in the matter. No one just chooses to be depressed. Depression stems from biological, psychological, and sometimes environmental factors. It’s a lot more complicated than just feeling sad.
The “it could be worse” may come from a good place, but it won’t sound that way to your loved one. They will feel completely invalidated, meaning they’ll feel even worse for experiencing such depression, as if they “shouldn’t” be feeling the way they are, causing them even more guilt and shame.
Telling someone with depression they “look fine” or “don’t look depressed” simply doesn’t make any sense. Depression does not “look” like anything. There is no way to tell if someone is struggling based on their appearance. Many people are very good at wearing a mask to hide what’s really going on. Just because someone seems like they have everything together doesn’t mean they do. People often hide behind smiles and put on a front. The reason for this is likely because they are either trying to avoid their own depressive symptoms, or because they are avoiding telling friends or family because (again) they don’t want to be a burden.
Remember to be compassionate. Always be kind. You never know what’s really going on with someone behind closed doors.
While it’s great you are being supportive of your loved one, don’t forget that you are not responsible for their happiness. You will never be the one to change or fix someone else. It is up to them, and only them, to recover.
Helping a friend with depression can be terrifying. It’s hard to know how to react, what to do, and how to support them. You’re probably feeling a combination of exhaustion, guilt, helplessness, frustration, and even anger. All of these emotions are valid. Supporting a loved one suffering with depression can be mentally draining, so it’s critical you are taking good care of yourself. This could mean a multitude of things such as making time for your own hobbies, relaxing, exercising, seeing a mental health professional, or a mixture of these. You’ll never be able to effectively help someone unless you’re taking care of yourself first. You are still your top priority.
I hope this read was helpful for you as you figure out how to best support your loved one. As always, if you have questions, comments, or feedback, please feel free to reach out or leave a comment below!