How to care for a friend with depression
I return to this quote from The Joker often: “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
I decided to write this open letter to my friends and to everyone else with a friend, partner, or family member struggling with depression. I have been on the edge so many times, I have lost count. I have friends who are aware that I have been diagnosed with depression and they try the way they know how to support me but I do not feel safe enough to share my struggles with them. My support system is a select number of people who understand that depression is a bottomless pit. I scoff at threads on twitter that say, “Repost this to let people know that they can talk to you when they are going through it” because people do not know how to provide that support.
Be a place of softness
When I was a child, I used to have dreams where I fell into a black hole. That endless sinking scared me. That’s what depression feels like. When you understand that, you can understand why you should not ask your friend certain questions. Personally, I hate being asked what’s wrong. Everything is wrong. It’s not one particular thing. I could be having a rough day because someone yelled at me. That could be the trigger but the background of that situation could be that I am broke or I may not have eaten yet. It could be that I have a couple of projects that I started and abandoned because I do not feel good enough and I grew up in a home where I didn’t feel seen or heard.
When you ask me what’s wrong, I have to choose one problem. You on the other hand not realizing that this is an endless cycle, would try to solve that one problem. If it was money, you would try to send me money or if it was about being yelled at, you explain to me how life can be shitty sometimes and other short stories. Eventually, the conversation comes to a close where you think you’ve solved my problem but you haven’t because depression is not a problem you can solve. I prefer being asked how I feel and when I answer, ask me “How can I support you?”
This is the same thing as holding my hand while crossing a busy road. You are with me. Often, people say talk to me and they mean well but are you a place of softness? Do you listen? Can you hold space? That’s the important stuff. Ask your friends how to show up for them. It differs from person to person.
Do not expect immediate healing
It is not a linear process. Depression is said to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This means it is not like malaria that can be cured with a single dose of anti-malaria medicine. Depression can be compared with diabetes, which is a spike in the level of blood sugar and has no cure. Just as symptoms of diabetes are managed day to day with lifestyle changes such as food choices, increasing water intake, or including exercise in a daily routine, so also is depression managed with a combination of treatments.
I have had cases where people feel like because they helped solve one problem I had yesterday, I cannot be depressed today. That places a burden on me where I must pretend to be okay no matter how terrible I feel on the inside. Try to be empathetic to your friend’s experiences. Depression is not something you snap out of. Many people take drugs or go to therapy sessions for years to get through each day. We need all the support we can get without the pressure of seeming okay.
When in doubt, just listen
My advice to everyone is to be more compassionate. If you think you have, do more. In a world where we know little to nothing about mental health, we tend to assume that people can just get through it but the truth is that we can’t. Your brain tells the rest of your body what to do and if your brain is in distress, the rest of your body will follow suit. Instead of telling your friend to be strong, just listen. Ask them how you can be there for them. Ask if they would like a hug and hold them tight if they say yes. Depression can make a person feel isolated from the world. Sometimes a warm hug can be soothing in ways words cannot.
Learn to give space
Sometimes, we are out of the energy to talk, to explain for the 100th time why we are so sad. When it feels like your friend is shutting you out, you can send them a message letting them know that you support them taking time for themselves and whenever they feel ready to talk to you again, you will be there to hold their hands through it. This means you understand them, and you are letting them know that you are a dependable friend.
If you have more questions about your mental health or how you can support someone dealing with depression, kindly reach out to our Moderators on our Facebook Page and we will respond.