Danny Baker has some solid advice for helping a loved one struggling with depression.
Considering that 350 million people are estimated to suffer from depression worldwide, chances are that someone you’re close with battles this illness. Yet despite its prevalence, depression is still minimally spoken about, so those surrounding the affected person are left to wonder about how best to help them.
To offer some guidance, I’ve put together the following list of do’s and don’ts.
Try to understand the illness.
The more you understand the symptoms of depression and why your friend or loved one might be acting in the way they’re acting or feeling the way they’re feeling, the better you’ll be able to help them. Just browsing your country’s mental health charity’s website will teach you a lot, as will this article that I wrote a while ago, where 50 people with depression describe what it feels like for people who’ve never been depressed.
Be there for them if they need someone to talk to.
This is a wonderful gift to give—anyone who’s ever suffered from depression will tell you how great it feels to be able to talk to someone and get things off their chest.
Remind them that their suffering is temporary.
One of the cruelest features of depression is that it can trick the sufferer into thinking that their pain in permanent, and that they’re destined to be miserable for the rest of their life. As a close friend or loved one, you can make a big difference by offering them hope by reminding them that if they get the right help, they’ll be able to recover and feel well again.
Encourage them to get help.
Many people who suffer from depression are unwilling to seek help due to the stigma surrounding depression or because they’re scared of opening up to someone they don’t know. But if you continuously encourage them to do so, they’re much more likely to.
Encourage them to take part in enjoyable activities.
Many people with depression shut themselves off from the world and rarely leave the house (or their bed)—yet find that when they do make the effort to go out, they feel all the better for it. So try to encourage them to go out with you and do something fun.
Don’t say things like “depression isn’t real”, “just get over it”, “it’s all in your head”, “don’t worry, we all have bad days now and then”, “look how lucky you are” or “just think positive”.
You may mean well, but most people with depression find these sorts of statements really annoying. Depression is a bone fide illness, and it can be very serious and complicated—and when you dismiss it as not being real or severe, or try to “fix” it with a clichéd suggestion, you’re likely to irritate and alienate them.
Don’t try to be their therapist—this is not your job.
If your friend suffers from depression, then they need to be seeing a professional therapist—and unless you are one, then that’s way outside the scope of friendship, and the blurring of the friend/therapist line can have devastating consequences. Like I talk about in my post Does Your Lover Double As Your Therapist, it’s detrimental to your relationship, since the person with depression can easily become dependent and needy, creating a very unbalanced friendship that can eventually end with you saying “enough is enough” and cutting ties. Secondly, it’s detrimental to your friend with depression, since unless they see a professional therapist and do the other things they’re supposed to do to recover, they never will.
Don’t think you can “save” them—because unfortunately, you can’t.
I cannot say this emphatically enough: your role as someone supporting a loved one with depression is not to “save” them. Yet unfortunately, it’s been my observation that many supporters think this is their job – and thus feel guilty when they inevitably can’t play the role of hero. It’s also been my observation that many sufferers of depression think this is their supporter’s role—and thus feel angry when their loved ones don’t end up saving them.
Here’s the candid truth: only the person suffering from depression has the power to save themselves.
They are the only ones who can make sure they take their medication.
They are the only ones who can commit themselves to therapy and read self-help books to understand what triggers their depression and learn how to manage those triggers.
They are the only ones who can make themselves exercise; who can make sure they get good, regular sleep; and who can commit themselves to eating healthily and laying off drugs and alcohol.
Their illness is their responsibility, and it’s up to them whether they choose to accept that responsibility and take charge of their recovery or not.
In conclusion, if your friend or loved one is suffering from depression, you don’t need to be their therapist, or don a superman cape and try to play the role of savior. Rather, you just need to be there for them if they need to talk, encourage them to get help and do what’s best for them, and tell them to keep on going when they feel like giving up. You just need to be supportive and caring.
In other words, your role is to stand by them as they save themselves.