A couple of days ago, the tragic suicide of a Bollywood celebrity shook the people of India. What followed was a series of posts on social media by people offering help to friends and followers suffering from mental health problems along with helpline numbers and contacts of therapists.
Offering help to friends suffering from mental health problems may seem like the right thing to do, and it may be because you have your heart in the right place. But it is undoubtedly a fatally flawed idea. So, I decided to surf “How to help a friend suffering from depression?” and was taken to a rather interesting discussion on Reddit.
While a lot of posts on social media help you understand what depression is and what you should be doing if you think you are depressed, very few posts tell you what you could do for a close friend or family member who is suffering from depression.
Here is what I learned from a couple of people who are suffering from depression or have suffered from depression in the past.
Be a good listener
It's always good to let people finish what they are trying to say, even if it comes at the cost of you forgetting what story you were going to relate. You may be interrupting them with a story or an anecdote that you might think would make them feel better.
Most people who vent out aren't really looking for solutions but just a person who could listen to them. Having said that, if you think you do not have the emotional capacity or the time to listen to them at that moment, instead of hurrying them up to finish their story, politely tell them how you are currently not in that space at the moment or tell them that you would get back to them as soon as you can.
Take some conscious effort
“I was working full time and dealing with depression and anxiety as well. Before my husband really understood what to do and how to be supportive, one of the most destructive things he did was complain that I didn't do the dishes/take out the trash/vacuum. When he understood that these simple things were just too much for me, he started thanking me for the small things that I did. Like changing the toilet paper roll when we ran out, taking my dirty dishes to the sink instead of leaving them at the table, putting my shoes away instead of leaving them by the couch, and so on.
Knowing that what I did was appreciated made all the difference. When you feel like you can't do anything right but that one person who loves you, thank you for the smallest thing, it just validates your existence,” wrote a Reddit user.
Encourage your friend to seek professional help
"I have been suffering from depression for 15 years. It took me 14 years until I decided to seek help. I'm not cured 100%, but I wish I could have gotten the medication sooner. The best thing I can do is to try and remove the stigma associated with mental health. Many people around us are reluctant to see a doctor because they believe that their issues can be self resolved. Taking medication for mental health is as normal as getting prescribed medicines for allergies or heartburn. Mental health is something we all deal with and it's such a shame that it has been given this stigma over time as something to ignore or feel ostracized if you're a sufferer of it." wrote a Reddit user.
Do not take the role of a therapist to your friend
Like I said before, your friend expects you to be a friend to her, not a therapist. The reason being that you are not a professional and not trained to get them out of it. A piece of wrong advice or suggestion could affect them in a way you probably never imagined. Sometimes your friend might not want to open up to you or might not feel comfortable talking to you about her problems. In that case, instead of coaxing them to do the same, encourage them to seek professional help. Let them know that they can take all the time and space they want and that you’d be there for them.
As someone who suffered from depression in the past with having a psychologist mother around, a major thing to understand is that you might be a psychology student or a therapist yourself but what you need to understand is that your friend or family member might still be uncomfortable accepting you as their therapist due to fear of judgments.
Invite them to hang out
Your friend might refuse to join you every time you ask them out but do not avoid them completely and assume that they might not want to come at all. Invite them every time you plan an outing or while hanging out with your other friends. If they decline, do not pressurize them. Let them be. But then again, let them know that you haven't forgotten them. Keep sending out the invitations. Offer low-stress low-commitment activities, like taking your dog out for a walk with you.
“My best friend invites me to everything. Every weekend we would get together to play video games. I almost never turned up. I might show up once in a while. But he kept inviting me all the time. If I say I'll go and drop out at the last minute, he would never be mad.
Eventually, when I started to come out of it. It was amazing for me because re-entering a social life after dropping out for months was really hard when everyone had given up me. He says that he knows I will never come but also did not want to pressure me. He wanted me to know that I'm always welcome.” wrote another Reddit user.
Let them know that they are valued and always welcome. Check on them once in a while. Send them memes and jokes. Let them know that you are there. Just sticking around and letting them know you understand them is all that they need.
But above all, take care of yourself first. No matter how resilient or nurturing a person you are, supporting someone might eventually take a toll on you if you don't practice good self-care and establish/maintain boundaries.
People like to romanticise the idea of unconditional caring regardless of its effects on them. Be compassionate, supportive, and try to be a positive force in a person's life.