There are few things in life that are more difficult than watching a friend or loved family member suffer. We want to rush to their side and render assistance. If our child falls down and scrapes her knee, we are right there to help stop the bleeding and hold her while she cries. When a friend breaks his leg in a motorcycle crash and can’t work for a period of time, we will go over to cheer him up, bring food, ask if we can go shopping or do other tasks for him while he’s laid up. As hard as it is to witness our loved one go through the pain, there’s a certain comfort in knowing what we can do to help.
But sometimes, it can be more perplexing if a friend doesn’t have a physical injury. If they don’t know how to tell you what’s wrong. Many times, if a friend is suffering from depression, a common mental illness, they cannot express to us exactly what is going on inside them. It can make us feel helpless, because even though we desperately want to assist, we don’t know what to do for them. Also frustrating is the fear of doing the wrong thing, and making the situation worse.
Understanding Clinical Depression
Clinical depression is one of the most common, yet most misunderstood illnesses afflicting people in society today. The World Health Organization estimates that over 300 million people globally suffer from some form of the disorder. So it’s very likely that you, or someone you know, are affected, will be affected, or have been affected in the past. And it would be helpful to know what to do when it happens.
It’s extremely important that those suffering depression know that they have the loving support of friends and family. The following are some helpful useful tips on how to be of assistance to your loved one while they go through this ordeal.
What to Do to Help a Depressed Loved One
- Be available to listen. If they are up to talking, ask about how they are doing. Ask what you can do to be helpful, or what they need. Be prepared for them to tell you that they don’t know, or that there’s nothing you can do. Continue to let them know that you are there for them, whenever they need to express themselves.
- Choose a good time to talk. Look for an opportunity when you and your friend are both relaxed and comfortable before brining up sensitive subjects. If your loved one seems upset or agitated, avoid trying to discuss their illness at that time. It will most likely be counterproductive and put them on the defensive. You will end up feeling more helpless to assist.
- Take their concerns seriously. A person who is going through depression is not going to “snap out of it” or “pull themselves up” or “let it go”. Those types of well-meaning suggestions are not helpful at all, because they imply that they are not trying hard enough or that they are somehow at fault. The sufferer needs to know that you take their feelings seriously. Rather than just saying “I understand what you’re going through”, try listening very carefully, and repeat back to them some of their concerns, so they know you are paying attention.
- Educate yourself. Become better informed about depression to help you more fully understand what your loved one is dealing with.
- Encourage the person to get assistance. It’s very important that your friend or loved one gets proper help for their illness. If they haven’t already done so, encourage them to go see their doctor. If they seem a bit resistant or hesitant, offer to go with them. Sometimes a person needs support just to make a first step in the right direction. Being there for them can mean a great deal.
- Help them find proper support services. Your friend may not be comfortable talking to someone in a face-to-face setting. There are counseling services online or by email that are available in such circumstances. If your friend cannot bring him/herself to do it alone, why not help them look up those services and research which ones may work best for them.
- Discuss suicide prevention and safety planning. Make certain that you let your loved one know that you are concerned for their welfare. Ask them if they have had any thought of suicide or harming themselves or others. This can be a very delicate discussion, but it is crucial. ReachOut.com has some very helpful tips on how to have a conversation about suicide. Let your friend know that you would like to be a part of safety planning for them.
- Don’t push if they are not ready. Be ready to back down if your friend is insistent that they don’t want help. Perhaps you feel that they need to see a mental health physician, but don’t continue to pressure them if they keep objecting. Sometimes it takes a while before a person feels ready to take that step. Meanwhile, encourage them to continue to talk with those whom they trust. Let them know that you are always available.
- Take action in case of emergencies. If you feel that your friend is in danger of hurting themselves or is a risk to others, this is a situation where you do NOT want to ‘back down’. If this is the case, do not hesitate to find help immediately. Call emergency services and tell someone else whom you trust. Your loved one’s life is at stake.
Just Be There
Being there for your friend is one of the most loving things that you can do for them. It may not be easy, it may sometimes be disheartening, and you may feel like you are not doing any good. But by being supportive, you can help your friend to regain their footing and start enjoying life again. It may be one of the most rewarding things that you do.