This post is part of spreading awareness during May- Mental Awareness Month, I hope it helps you with some tips of how to support people with depression from my personal experiences with living with depression and PTSD. I am sure the list is helpful for other mental illnesses, however I do not have those experiences. For a roundup of all my mental health posts, you can check it out here. I also share more info on Instagram stories the entire month.
Also, If you are having suicidal thoughts OR think your friend is please call 1-800-273-8255- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sucidial thoughts need to be taken seriously, they are not attention seeking
Part of breaking the stigma surrounding depression is calling it what it is- it is AN ILLNESS.
Depression (and other mental illnesses) are not character flaws and they need to be healed typically with a doctor and possibly medication. Therefore, if we regard depression as an illness, some ways to support an individual with depression are very similar to what you would do for a friend who was ill with a physical illness.
I do think we all have to be proactive in our care but there is a difference in enabling versus helping. If someone was recovering from a stroke and re-learning speech and getting physical therapy, you cannot do that work for them and they need to do it on their own; however you would help with practical, concrete needs in the midst of a bad episode as they are getting the medical help (that you cannot provide) that they need.
Some of these tips are for more intimate partners, as in you might not want to help your friend take a shower, lol.
1) Use suggestion versus telling them what they need to do–
Suggest a shower or change of clothes, ask if they want you to draw a bath for them, suggest a walk around the block with you, suggest a call to their therapist. The reason I say suggest is language is SO important. Telling someone they NEED to go on a walk, they need to get up and take a shower is absolutely true, but sometimes I cannot do that and it literally makes me sadder and feel guilty about not being able to do it. This specific thing is something Nick works on, he thinks he has all the answers and tells me what I need to do, lol. (he also knows everything I do for self care so is well versed in what I have designated as my needs, but the suggesting part can be improved.)
2) A follow up to the language we use- Please, please do not say, go for a run! Think positive! If running, good thoughts and rainbows could cure me I would be an Olympic marathon runner and freaking be on top of world. They do not! My brain cannot think positive in a depressive state. In hindsight, we cannot believe it now, but when I was first depressed and Nick and I did not know what to do, what I was suffering from or anything- Nick would say go for a run! We had no idea how sick I was, Nick and I have come so far from that first year and he would never, ever say that now because we both have learned so much.
3) Cognitive behavioral therapy- Ok, you are not a therapist and do not try to act like one, lol, but CBT language is very helpful and super easy to do. Is your friend’s brain telling her she is a terrible Mom? List the concrete things she did that day that show she is a great Mom- Hey, you got of bed and took your kids to school, made them breakfast, blahblah.
CBT language fights the lies of the brain by confronting it with facts. But you do not want to assume what the bad thoughts are, you can say hey, can you tell me a negative thought that is ruminating?
4) Drop off some healthy food – now is not the time for cake, I’m sorry, I know our go-tos for comforting people are baked goods, lol. I personally cannot eat when depressed, others over-eat (and usually junk food) Healthy, nutritious foods to get that body going is what we need!
5) Help with “concrete” needs– during a bad state, I do not even know what I need or want, but you probably notice that pile of laundry out of control, letters unopened, etc… I remember when my brother came to visit he folded all my laundry and I nearly cried lol. Also, I love when you fold my laundry anytime, so come on over!
6) Gift them- not necessary obviously, but some pretty flowers, maybe a magazine they love (I find magazines are simpler to go thru than a book, but a book is great too), a pretty journal (journaling is one of my therapist’s suggestions, even though I personally do not do it), water bottle (drinking lots of water beneficial for anyone) I have a list 55 Self care items you can take a look at as well.
7) Help them find support- if they are not seeing a therapist and seem open to it, suggest helping them find one or hand them a couple names & numbers you have heard of, it can be daunting finding help, especially if you do not know where to start. Offer to drive them to therapy and wait for them after to give a hug (just as you would offer a friend who needed a follow up doctor visit after a car accident) . Nick & I have a pretty good system for my appointments. Sometimes I am emotionally drained and therefore dinner is take out or in Nick’s hands. Or sometimes I want to cook dinner to get a mental break. We follow my lead, but I can tell you, I always want Nick snuggles, lol.
8) Learn about depression- Nick has been to therapy with me to get advice from my therapist and learn more about depression. Of course, he is my husband, so I would not expect a friend to do that, but reading up on it and developing an understanding is comforting (but I am assuming you are already doing that because you are here!)
9) Lastly, just say you love them and you care and remind them that you are there for them. Even when I self isolate and do not want to talk to anyone, I do know somewhere in the back of my head that I have Nick and 4 other people I can reach out to without judgment. I usually do not reach out, but they drop me messages to say they love me and ask if I need to talk. And they actively listen to me when I do talk.
This is a brief list of ways to support and I know it is very hard on friends and family when any loved one is sick. It can be a helpless feeling and I hope this brings hope to you. Do not take reactions personally, some might react with anger and/or forget to thank you. Also, no matter what you do, they are STILL going to be depressed, you cannot fix it, just as you (unless you are a doctor) cannot fix a stroke, broken leg or heart attack (looking at you Nick 🙂 you can support, hold a hand and say you love them.
Thank you to Nick, all my friends, family and many people in the blogging community who continue to support and love me and bring me hope on my darkest days. I could not do it without you and I am immensely grateful for your support.