(DISCLAIMER: These are all based on my personal experience. When in doubt, ask a professional. Get help from someone who’s qualified!)
1. Remember that depression is a disease. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but it’s there, and it’s real. Your friend doesn’t mean to be sad or hopeless or a buzzkill, okay? They literally have no choice and are likely using all of their energy to stop themselves from being worse. So don’t feel bad if you can’t help them, if you can’t “cure” them… remember that there are professionals to help with that, and that they are the ones who can help your friend. Also remember that depression is not like a cold–there is no magic medicine or treatment, and it might never be cured. Most of us live with depression forever, to varying degrees.
2. …but that your friend is more than that. That depression takes up such a big space in my life doesn’t mean that that’s all I am or all I do–and it’s the same with your friend. Even when the conversation revolves around their mental state a lot, your friend is still a person who has other things to talk about. Please remember that we’re more than depression on legs… we’re still people!
3. Remember that we’re allowed to have a bad day, depression or not. If your friend isn’t getting help yet, by all means encourage them. If your friend is talking about running away or ending their life, please get them help. But if they’re telling you that they’re having a rough day and are thinking about calling their ex or changing their career? That’s normal. That’s just a person thing, not a depression thing. So say what you would say to any other friend: “Exes are exes for a reason, and if you’re getting another job you better get it before you quit and be making bank at the new one!”
4. Appreciate that they’re telling you how they feel. Sometimes listening to me can be really rough–I get that. It’s difficult to deal with someone who is in the midst of depression, whose outlook is bleak and hopeless all the time… especially when it’s me we’re talking about, since I believe in full disclosure abut my mental state regardless of how uncomfortable it might make people. Don’t want anybody to not know what they signed up for. So if your friend is telling you how they feel and you feel scared, that’s okay–but remember where it comes from. Remember that this person, who is in so much pain it is all-consuming and who has to struggle to remember that there are other people in the world, is making an effort to be honest with you. It means more than you know.
5. Know what your role is. Regardless of what your relationship to the person with depression is, there is one thing that is unquestionable: your role is not to be their savior. You are there to be supportive, to listen, to offer comfort, to encourage–what you would do for any other person that you love, sick or not. This person should have a therapist or a support group or both–but that’s not your job! Do not feel responsible for fixing them, nor let them make you feel like you’re responsible for them. Keeping these boundaries in mind will save you a lot of grief!
6. Educate yourself! When you’re dealing with someone as ill as I’ve been recently, it can become overwhelming very quickly. If you’re not sure how to help or even how to deal with listening to your friend, look for resources that will help you too. I have a friend who’s attended therapy with me before to get an idea of what it’s like and to get some tools to keep me on track. Some others have talked to their therapists about my situation and gotten support and help that way. Just make sure you inform yourself up to a level where you feel comfortable and equipped to deal with being there for your friend–just remember, this is not your job and you’re not looking for fixes, just for ways to help your friend stay afloat.
7. Be honest. I have a couple of friends who have established boundaries in terms of how much we talk about depression and what we talk about. I also have some others who have told me they don’t feel equipped to deal with my condition, so I gloss over it in my conversations with them. It’s okay to say that–I would much rather someone admit they can’t handle it than have them plod through my feelings with me only to resent me later or worse, snap at me. I’ve also had friends whose mental health has worsened from the toll of dealing with mine, and viceversa. Don’t put yourself in that position! You have to keep yourself healthy so you can be there for your friend.
Some final tips from one of my favorite resources:
What you can say that helps:
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold of for just one more day, hour, minute — whatever you can manage.
- You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
- Tell me what I can do now to help you.
- It’s all in your head.
- We all go through times like this.
- Look on the bright side.
- You have so much to live for why do you want to die?
- I can’t do anything about your situation.
- Just snap out of it.
- What’s wrong with you?
- Shouldn’t you be better by now?
Adapted from: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
If you have a resource or strategy you would like to recommend, drop me a comment! 🙂
Edit: My roommate had three quick things to add, since she’s dealt with myself and others in this situation:
- Depression is a part of this person–accept that and know that the person you love is still there. They just have depression!
- You might not know what’s going on in their life or what has happened before that is causing depression, and sometimes that person won’t either. Not understanding why they feel that way doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid or real!
- OFFER HUGS, especially if your friend is like me and loves hugs. Sometimes some contact is all it takes to make us feel better… human touch is way more healing than people realize. And so are smiles!