I’m not gonna lie, not too long ago I had absolutely no idea how to help someone going through a depressive episode. I’ve made more than a few mistakes, made things worse at times, and spent more time not knowing what to do than actually helping. After being on both the giving and receiving end, here’s my take on how you can best support a friend or a loved one with depression. As always, this is drawn from my own experience and won’t be representative of everyone who has depression.
Without further ado, here are two questions you should ask yourself when you’re helping someone going through a rough patch.
Am I in a position to help them?
First and foremost, you have to be absolutely sure that you’re in a position to support someone with a mental illness. It’s exhausting to support someone with depression, you’ll get your feelings hurt, and more often than not it would seem like a thankless task. Assess your own resources and emotional health. If you’re already supporting your friend with depression, check in with yourself often to see if you’re still able to support them in the way that you are now. Once you’ve had a good think, it’s okay to decide that you can’t help your friend or loved one right now. If you’re already supporting someone, it’s okay to step back. Your own health is important too; it’s good to help, but it’s not ideal when the end result is two people with crap mental health.
Again, this won’t be the case for everyone, but it might be worth noting that it may not be healthy for you to support someone if you’re struggling with depression yourself. Yes, no one can better empathise with your loved one than someone else going through depression. And yes, you’re the only one who can decide whether you’re able to support your loved one. However, your own emotional health should take priority – it’s no good giving your all right now when it leaves you with nothing to give in the future.
How can I help them?
Work out between you and your loved one what sort of help they would like and what you can give. It might even be that your loved one is resistant to your efforts to help them, which can be frustrating and hurtful. If things are life-threatening, drag them to the doctor. Otherwise, I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do except for keeping the communication lines open with them until they want to accept help. Protect your relationship with them as well as you can; treat them as you would normally. Don’t take it personally if they reject your offer to help, it’s not a reflection of your relationship with them or of you as a person.
It may be that you’re able to support them emotionally. Checking in with them to see how they’re doing that day, offering a listening ear when they want to talk, or just distracting them every so often when they’re having a particularly bad day. Maybe you’re able to help them more practically. Reminding them to see their doctor or to take their medication is always helpful. Maybe it’s as simple as encouraging them to take small steps in self-care that day (things like having a shower, eating, getting out of bed, and things that are otherwise useful might go out of the window on a bad day). For me, it was helpful just knowing there are friends who are there for me, even if I don’t know myself how I want to be helped.
It’s hard. I still don’t know how to deal with it sometimes, both as a depressed-person and friend-trying-to-help-depressed-person. The very fact that you’re willing to put yourself out there emotionally and practically for your loved one says volumes about you. You’re awesome. Remember that.