It can be hard to know how to be a good friend to someone who is struggling with depression because it’s such a difficult condition to understand. Even if you’ve experienced it yourself, it can be hard to understand a friend’s depression and to know how best to help.
Taking the time to try to understand how depression feels can be a great start; but it’s not easy. These pointers will help you in gaining a better understanding and becoming a better friend.
1. There may not be a reason
It can be tempting to try and explain depression by finding circumstances or experiences on which to pin it – and sometimes you will be able to identify contributing factors, but just as often there will be no reason at all.
This doesn’t make your friend’s symptoms, thoughts and feelings any less serious or severe though.
2. Never assume – let your friend tell their story
Especially if you’ve experienced depression yourself in the past, you can sometimes find yourself thinking that you know how your friend is thinking or feeling, but you need to remember that we’re all unique and that your friend’s experience may not echo your own.
You should let your friend tell their own story, in their own words and never assume that you know or understand exactly what they’re going through.
3. They find most days really, really hard
Living with depression is physically and emotionally draining. It may leave your friend feeling completely defeated even before they’ve got out of bed in the morning.
You need to remember this and be as supportive and accommodating as we can. Your friend won’t necessarily start to feel better right away, so you need not to assume that the days are getting easier just because time is passing.
4. They may not answer your calls
A good friend will keep in touch with no expectation of a response to the calls, texts and emails that you send. Sometimes your friend will find it overwhelmingly difficult to know what to say or how to say in in response to your messages.
That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the effort though, so despite the lack of response, don’t stop contacting your friend.
5. They think they’re not worth caring about
Depression can leave sufferers stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and self-talk, which may leave your friend feeling unloved and unlovable. No matter how good of a friend you are and how much think it goes without saying that you care about your friend, take time to say it out loud and to actually show them that you care.
6. They can feel aimless and hopeless
Your friend may want desperately to get better, but depression can zap a sufferer’s energy, their hopes and their motivation, leaving them listless and unable to make the changes needed to support their recovery.
Not following doctors’ orders is a sign of how much someone is suffering rather than a sign that they don’t want to get better – so if your friend seems stuck in a rut, don’t dismiss them. Instead, give them the gentlest of encouragement and hold their hand along the way.
7. They may get worse before they get better
Sometimes, you can equate mental health issues with physical health issues and expect to see more or less linear progress when it comes to recovery. It often isn’t so with depression and you may begin to feel that your friend is getting better one week, only to feel that things are worse than ever the next.
This is perfectly normal and can sometimes be a response to exploring difficult issues in therapy, starting or stopping a new medication or simply the cycle of the illness. Don’t get frustrated or upset by backwards steps, but instead stick by your friend as they continue to battle on.
8. If they have a good day, they want to enjoy it with you
Not every day is a bad day. If your friend has a good day, they may want to make the most of it with you. Never assume that tomorrow will be another such day, and instead, seize the moment whilst you can.
Depression means a lot of low and often unpredictable moods, but that includes brighter moods at times too.
9. They need you to be the friend you’ve always been
Most importantly, your friend just needs you to be you. There’s a reason you’ve been friends all these years and just because they’re struggling with depression doesn’t mean they’ve fundamentally changed as a person.
Just be the you that you’ve always been and continue to extend the hand of friendship on darker days and on brighter days. Be loyal and listen but ,above all, just be you.
Featured photo credit: Womans hands connected with tangled string, Ed Gregory via stokpic.com