Today, we're tackling a particularly difficult topic: how to support someone with depression. Just as every person is different, every person coping with depression is different and handles it in their own way too. Regardless of whether or not you're new to handling this type of situation, there are definitely some things you shouldn't say to a person battling depression—like "you're fine" or "things will get better," for example.
At the time, someone coping with this mental illness might feel like they're in a downward spiral. They may even be often blaming themselves for not knowing how to feel better, even though it's beyond their control. "Many of the things we do for someone with depression fall short," says David Sabine, a clinical psychologist. But it's not that you're doing anything wrong, per se: It can just be hard for the person suffering from depression to acknowledge that you're helping in any way. And the fact of the matter is that sometimes, you really can't change the way that person feels. Regardless, it's important to learn how to support someone with depression.
Keep reading to see how you can be there for your friend or loved one until they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Friends who have dealt with depression have said that one of the worst things is when others don't understand that this is a chemical balance and not just something you're "going through." Firstly, if you notice your friend or loved one is acting more down than normal, it's worth broaching the topic. Sometimes people don't recognize their own depression right away or are too self-conscious to bring it up. "It is really easy to isolate oneself when dealing with depression," says Al Levin, who overcame a major depressive disorder. "There's a good chance your friend … may be masking his/her depression and may not be the one to broach the topic."
Just because you may not be an expert on the topic doesn't mean that you can't learn more information. You don't have to physically experience symptoms yourself to be able to have empathy for your friend. Start by reading up on the condition on the National Institute of Mental Health (or another helpful source), talk to family or friends who may have experienced depression themselves, or even join an online support group to learn more. Remember: Depression is an illness, and you should treat it as such. "Just as if someone you love got diabetes," says Sabine.
Maybe your friend will want to talk, or maybe they'll just want someone to spend time with. Start by offering to be on speed dial if they want to chat something through. Depression can be isolating, so know that your offer will mean a lot. This condition can also make it difficult for someone to carry on their everyday life—even little things can become a total drudgery and seem unbearable. "Almost any activity or task becomes a painful ordeal, even things as simple as taking a shower or getting dressed," says Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. So don't just do everything for your friend—like folding laundry or getting groceries—but accompany them on these humdrum errands to show they're not alone.
Help them help themself
Since depression is a chemical imbalance, usually medication is used to even things out. Since these medications are controlled substances, a psychiatrist appointment is necessary for a prescription, and continued counseling is often recommended. Since overcoming depression is not a quick process, your loved one will need to find a go-to group of experts that will help them get better (this varies for everyone and can include therapists, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, etc.). You can help by doing the legwork to find recommendations for your friend (a good way to find a good therapist is to contact a primary care physician to see who they recommend to patients).
Send a care package
It can literally be a handwritten card and some pre-packaged candy, but when your friend comes home from a long day, snail mail from you will make them smile. Another option is to send bright flowers that will bring some light to their space. Or go the pampering route and send relaxing bath salts, face masks, or the like (if you're short on time Boxfox makes a pre-curated Pamper box).
Panic and anxiety come along with depression, and sometimes just getting out of bed is a challenge. Realize that if someone with depression cancels on your plans, you should not take it personally. You can also ask if it's better for you to come over because they may just not feel comfortable leaving the house that day. (More often than not, it has nothing to do with not wanting to see you). "When you're patient with your loved one, you're letting them know that it doesn't matter how long this is going to take, or how involved the treatments are going to be, or the difficulties that accompany the passage from symptom onset to recovery, because you will be there," says Deborah Serani, a psychologist who has experienced depression.
The best way to support someone with depression is to let your loved one know you're in it for the long haul. By following the tips above, you'll be able to ease some of the pressure and confirm you care, making it easier for them to tackle the illness head-on.