If you’re wondering how to help someone with depression, then you’ve come to the right place. Please keep reading because your friend or loved one is struggling with some pretty heavy stuff and you’re awesome for trying to help.
I’m blessed to have a small bundle of supportive and encouraging people speaking truth to me on a fairly regular basis. Not every person with depression has that. In fact, as I’m getting to know more and more Sad Runner readers, I’m learning that helpful and supportive friends are relatively rare, a fact that’s very surprising to me.
However, even my most supportive friends are pretty clueless about my condition. The ones who also struggle with depression don’t fully get what I’m going through so how can my friends who aren’t suffering ever have a chance of understanding this? But, still, they want to know, and they’re interested in ways to help me.
They’re not all ignorant jerks
Many depression blogs and social pages lament that nobody gets us. This condition is so unique to the individual that, at times, figuring out how to help someone with depression is like trying to pick a combination lock. Good luck with that.
The posts I see on blogs and pages come across as condescending toward people who don’t get it. Sure, many give in to the stigma and are afraid of us or think we’re all just going to kill ourselves tomorrow. Those people do, in fact, suck.
I want anyone who has depression to know that there are many people out there trying to understand us and they want to help us get better.
When I first learned what people were searching for online related to depression, I was surprised how many were from people trying to help their friends and family get through it.
While the depression community is over on one side of the internet complaining that nobody gets them, some of their friends are on Google desperately trying to learn how to help.
The two things you need most to help
Dear friend, please know that you’re not going cure your loved one. I’m going to prove to you through this post that your love can make a difference, and these tips can help you alleviate their struggle a bit, but you’re not a miracle worker, and that’s why the two biggest things you need when you help someone with depression are patience and humility.
These tips to help your friend will work some days, and they will fall flat other days. You have to take what the illness gives you.
Earlier in my running career, I would stress over each race’s course. I’d want to know all the ups and downs, where the aid stations were, what each elevation point was going to be, I wanted it all. It didn’t take long before I learned that all that worrying is a waste. The day of the race, the course will be different, it will sound different, feel different, the pressure will be different. Nothing will be like how you prepared and worried. On race day, you just have to take what the course gives you. Whatever the run looks like that day, that’s how it is, and you just have to react to it.
That’s how each day with depression is. We have to take each moment as it comes and adapt. Sure we can have an overall game plan, and that’s what this list is for, but know that you will need to be patient and accept that some days are just not going to go well.
It’s not you; it’s the illness. There will come times your friend says the wrong thing or has the wrong tone or maybe doesn’t even seem to appreciate you. You have to be humble enough to know that this isn’t about you and how you feel, it’s about getting your loved one through the worst pain in their life.
How to help someone with depression: 13 ways to not make it worse
Alright, let’s jump into the list of ways you can help someone with depression or, at the very least, not make it worse.
Don’t take it personally
Depression is a physical illness with emotional consequences. There’s often excessive drama in their lives. They can flake on plans, or there can be unnecessary anger or frustration at times. It could be easy to take this all personally. You have to turn that off. It goes back to what I wrote about humility. It’s not about you; it’s this stupid illness.
You can’t learn too much about your friend’s condition. Nobody is going to be an expert on their situation like your friend, but you must know all you can to spot signs of trouble. More than that, you just need to understand this mysterious condition so you can help your friend live with it.
Where you can learn more about depression
Encourage professional help
Not every person with depression needs to see a therapist weekly. Not every person with depression needs to take a truckload of medication either. But, every person with depression, should have some professional on their team. Whether that is a general practitioner/MD, who sympathizes with the condition or it’s a Psychiatrist or counselor, someone who knows what they are doing should be in the picture, at least, some of the time. At the bare minimum they need that as a safety net, but in many cases, it can enhance their quality of life.
If your friend is not interested in getting help, be patient. The process is going to take awhile, but you will want to continue to slowly, and sweetly, encourage them to talk to a pro from time to time.
Be active in their recovery
Recovering from depression is a long process, and there will be times that your friend doesn’t even want to participate in their own comeback. That’s where your enthusiasm, patience, and encouragement come in. Be part of the process, ask how you can help. Ask them how therapy is going. If your loved one had cancer you wouldn’t just never mention chemo; you would ask how it was going and how you could help. It’s no different with depression.
…there will be times that your friend doesn’t even want to participate in their own comeback. That’s where your enthusiasm, patience, and encouragement come in.
Talk about it
There may be days they don’t want to talk about their condition. That’s fine; the point is that YOU are an active part of their life and their recovery. A big reason this stigma exists is because nobody talks about depression. They sweep it under the rug, so everyone else if left to come up with their own crappy interpretations of the illness. I disagree with that approach. Let’s talk about it. Air that stuff out. The more we speak of depression the more common place it becomes and the better it is for people who are struggling. So bring it up, ask them how they’re doing.
If, and this is a big IF, they choose to talk to you about their condition or what it is like, don’t screw it up by talking. Just hear them out, they need to speak, and they need you to listen. So honor that and respect it by listening intently and learning from them. The best depression education you can get is to learn firsthand from someone who struggles with it on a daily basis. So seize those opportunities.
If, and this is a big IF, they choose to talk to you about their condition or what it is like, don’t screw it up by talking.
Stay in touch
Depression causes people to withdraw. As someone who struggles with severe depression, I’ve lost count of how many relationships I’ve let wither away and die from neglect. It’s nothing personal, my illness just hates people and doesn’t want me to be around them. That’s pretty standard so you need to counter that by staying in touch.
Staying in touch can be as simple as a text message now and then just to let them know that you’re thinking about them and that you care. Look, our illness lies to us and tells us that we’re alone and that nobody gets us. When you stop hanging around it becomes easier to believe that’s true. So, if you care, you need to counter that with action. And that means, texts, phone calls, cards, invites to parties that they’ll never go to, coffee dates, funny movies, whatever you can get your hands on that they are willing to accept as a sign you care.
I remember every friend that’s bailed on me, there’s a lot of them. I wish I could forget, but my illness won’t let me. It uses all those friends as reasons for me to feel like I’m not worthy of love or concern. Those people who bailed on me are now evidence in a case my depression is building against me. It’s awful, but it’s true. So, if you don’t want that to be you, then you need to work to counter all the lies in their head and prove to them that you want to be there for them.
Celebrate the small wins
Your loved one desperately needs positivity in their life. Depression makes everything difficult. Some days brushing your teeth seems too difficult to do. Try this, lay in bed and look toward the direction of your bathroom sink. Invision where your toothbrush is. Now, imagine the distance between you and your toothbrush being 10 feet farther away. Then 20 feet, then 50 feet, now suppose it’s a mile between you and your toothbrush and you have to walk. Then, imagine your legs are each 500 pounds and your arms are twice as heavy. You’re not going to walk a mile with 500-pound legs all to then have to lift 1000 pounds to just to brush your teeth.
Some days, that’s what depression feels like. So some days, we celebrate something as small and mundane as brushing our teeth. We have to. Look at all we overcame to pull it off.
If your loved one took their pills this morning, awesome. If they managed to make it to work, outstanding. If they got through traffic and managed to sit through a session with a therapist, chest bump that dude. Celebrate it all because, with everything they carry with them, these achievements are worth the cheer.
Look, not every suicidal comment is a cry for hospitalization. So don’t panic at every little thing they say. The more they talk, the darker the things you may hear. That’s awesome that your friend is getting it out. Now, that said, you do want to keep an eye out for signs they may be diving deeper into their condition.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has, hands down, the best guide on the subject. Look over that occasionally to make sure you’re current on the signs.
Again, every condition is unique so please don’t panic if your friend has one thing on the list. For example, my Internet search history is filled with depressing things and of course, the topic of suicide is there. That doesn’t mean I’m going to kill myself today; it just means I run a website about depression 🙂
The best thing you can do is be present and active in their lives and just keep an eye out for those general red flags. The overwhelming majority of people with depression go on to live perfectly normal boring lives so just be present and keep an eye out just in case.
Find local services
This one is a little iffy for me because I tend to get annoyed when too many people start giving me advice that I’ve already read and tested. I’m not that common; depression leaves a lot of us lethargic and unable to do things. Remember the 500-pound legs analogy? Well, stuff like searching for a local therapist and calling to see if insurance takes it, is like next to impossible when someone is just trying to brush their teeth.
So that’s where you come in. Be the 411 on depression support for your friend so that, when that rare moment comes up when they are open to help, you can sweep in with the best information you have.
Take care of yourself
Don’t let your loved one’s depression pull you down. Set boundaries for yourself and respect them. You have to take care of yourself. Find personal time and space to be away and renew. You need to take a break from your loved one so that you can preserve your sanity.
It’s tough for me to have my wife away. She’s a major pillar in my support structure. But, I force myself to suck it up and deal with it when she needs to take a trip to visit family or go out with friends. My condition makes me unable to travel with her, but she still needs that in her life if we’re going to keep her healthy and not have her struggle like I do.
You must care for yourself if you’re going to help your friend through this because you need to be healthy enough for the two of you.
Nurture their hope
Hope can look different to each person. It may even vary depending on the day. Remember above when I said that you have to kind of just roll with whatever the depression gives you each day. Whatever hope there is that day, whether it is their faith, something the doctor said, anything, nurture that hope in them. Depression hates hope.
Counter the lies with love
Lastly, you need to know something. Depression is a dirty liar who tells awful lies to justify his existence. Those lies get screamed at us from within our brains. Many days, the lies are all we can hear, and sadly we start to believe them. We’ll believe we aren’t loved, that we’re alone, that nobody cares about us, that we’re a burden to those around us, that there’s no point in us existing, and those are just the tame lies I feel comfortable typing. The other ones are usually a whirlwind of bad memories, evidence that you don’t belong here and should just check out.
You have to scream your love over all the yelling. Depression’s lies are so loud and sharp they can pierce the soul. You have to grab your friend by the hand and show them you love them. You have to prove to them that they are worth it. You have to counter the bad memories with all new fun ones; you have to show them that there is a reason for them to exist. Because if you don’t, then the only one talking is their illness, and we can’t let that jerk run his mouth.
Do whatever you can to counter the lies they’re hearing with your love. I’m proof that it works. I survived crippling depression that brought me to the brink of suicide, and I’m currently rebuilding my life after it. The people who put me back together, the people who continue to hold me up, all do these things in their own way and, as a result, I’m still alive and now helping others. So know that your love works, and it does pay off.
Thank you for taking the time to learn how to help someone with depression. The more people who learn about this condition and who know how to help fight it, the better. The fact that you’ve read this shows you care enough to make a huge difference in the life of your loved one. Just keep working this list with love, patience, and humility and you will have a bigger impact than you will ever be able to understand.
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