Most people don’t really know how to react when a depressed friend confides in them. When this happens, we have to be very sensitive in our actions and with what we say and don’t say, but often these things aren’t very intuitive. I should know because I’ve made many mistakes myself, and only realized later that I had made them. Thus, I’ve made a list of 10 things that we should always remember when helping a depressed friend.
1. Remember to listen
This one is so obvious. But I needed to say it because being able to listen attentively is especially crucial here. Do not get distracted, ignore those text messages for a bit, and focus all your energy and attention on your friend. The least you can do, really, is to make your friend feel important and like he or she really matters right now.
Your friend needs you. Be a good listener and don’t assume you already know what they have to tell you. It is an honor that your friend chose you to open up to, instead of someone else. Tread lightly.
2. Remember not to judge
The time your friend will need extra love from you is when they are feeling utterly depressed. As Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” That is true. There is no way you can help someone when you’re coming from a place of judgment.
Everybody judges other people to a certain extent. I’m no exception. But this is definitely not the time for that. Do not tell your friend how sorry they should be feeling – 99.9% of the time you are entirely wrong about what exactly your friend is going through.
3. Remember not to compare
More often than not, life is relative. We have our own standards. If your friend is genuinely depressed at failing to achieve that A grade, don’t tell them that they shouldn’t be, just because half of the class failed. Likewise, if your friend is suffering from extreme loneliness, don’t go saying something like, “Well, I’m pretty lonely too.”
All this is useless stuff and it either does not add any value, or it makes your friend feel worse. Drop it, seriously. You might as well tell your friend how terrible they are for feeling depressed when there are people starving with no roof over their heads.
4. Remember never to suppress their emotions
Another thing that adds zero value is telling your depressed friend to ‘be strong.’ Or not to cry. What does being strong even mean? And definitely don’t tell your friend to just ‘snap out of it.’ It doesn’t work, period.
This is not the time to dictate what your friend should be doing or feeling. Your friend needs connection. They need someone to share the burden with, not to miraculously rise up to the occasion and suddenly become ‘strong.’ It’s not on you to fix anything.
If your friend just needs a day to get over it, so be it. The same if they need ten or thirty days. Your job is to be there for them, and not to say something like, “You shouldn’t be brooding over it for more than three days.” Ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the depressed person alone.
5. Remember to express empathy
Shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown says it best here. Feeling with people.
“The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better, is connection.”
6. Remember to offer support
Do what it takes so that your friend feels like you have got their back. Make sure you mean what you say. Telling your friend how much you care, or even telling them that you won’t let them go through this ordeal alone is oh, so easy. Prove it with your actions.
Call again the next day to check on your friend. Sacrifice an entire day to be with them. Send a hand-written note. If you’re busy at work, send a digital hug to let them know that they’re not alone. Remember, it’s not so much what you say or do, it’s how you make your friend feel.
7. Remember to make physical contact
Where possible, physical contact always helps. Be it a tap on your friend’s hand or arm, a pat on the back, an arm around the shoulder, or better still, a nice warm hug.
All these things release oxytocin in the body and fuel the connection between the two of you. And when one is depressed, what one really craves for is connection. Because as Dr. Brené Brown has already mentioned, your words rarely help anyway. So shut up and just give your friend a big hug. Show them some love.
8. Remember to be patient
What I mean by this is that your friend may say hurtful things and become very difficult to handle. Your friend might appear to be impossible to deal with. Just remember that this is not really him or her. This is the depression in your friend. It is temporary.
Depression might also make it hard for your friend to connect with anyone around them, even if you happen to be their close friend. They might be emotionless. Be patient and do not take it personally.
9. Depression is serious business
Depression is a serious illness. Understand that something terrible or traumatic does not need to happen for someone to be depressed. It can happen for no rhyme or reason. And it isn’t just about being in an extremely sad state. In fact, someone can be silently suffering from depression and yet look totally fine. If you suspect a friend is depressed, encourage them to seek medical treatment as well.
10. Remember not to neglect yourself
Lastly, do take care of yourself. If your friend is depressed, it can bring you down no matter how hard you try to help and show your care and concern. Know when to pull back and when you are doing yourself more of a disfavor than a favor for your friend. You may even have to be selective right from the beginning sometimes, so choose wisely. Always remember to love and respect yourself too.
Featured photo credit: Felipe Morin via flickr.com