Friends and family were often at a loss of what to say or do around me when I was at my lowest points of depression. Though it may have come with the best intentions, people would sometimes trivialize my feelings or give me a checklist of things to do ‘move on.’ They would also suggest I be more appreciative that things weren’t worse. These responses actually worsened my state of mind. The people who helped me the most responded far differently.
The effects of depression/abuse/trauma trickle down to every layer of life. In general, depressed people have great difficulty with relationships; this includes marriage, parenting, friendship, work, and church. Those of us who have been abused have been taught that intimate relationships of all kinds, not just sexual, are dangerous. We have been deeply hurt and instinctively keep our emotional distance in order to be safe.
Speaking from experience, though, I can happily assure you change is possible. It’s because of a certain key people in my life that I’ve been able to make it this far. I’ve been on both sides of the coin –the one being helped and the one trying to help –and I wanted to share some ways I’ve learned to help.
Some people respond to their depression by being very needy. This personality type needs support, but they also need firm boundaries. They need to be treated as if they are capable. Do not rescue or coddle them, as this only enables them to remain victims. It can also create caregiver burnout or resentment. Help them learn healthy independency.
Other people respond by being very self-sufficient. This personality is often very hesitant to ask for help. If they do ask, it is a sign they may be feeling accepted by you. No matter how small the request seems to you, it is probably a big step for them to ask. Help them learn healthy dependency.
Here are ways to support either type of friend:
- Listen. Sometimes all we need is an ear. We don’t expect you to understand or to have a solution. We just want to be heard; sometimes for the first time in our lives.
- Acknowledge/Accept. After you’ve heard what we’ve decided to share, we need to feel accepted. Most of what we’ve known so far is rejection, either real or perceived. We need something that communicates acceptance. An immediate response such as a hug can be very reassuring. For long term, the stability and continuity of your relationship shows you aren’t judging or rejecting.
- Encourage them to seek professional help. Depression can affect many areas of health, and it’s important to address it promptly.
- Research. Reading books and blogs from others who have been through depression can be very enlightening. The more you understand what your friend is going through trying to heal, the better you can support them.
It is important to remember you are not responsible for your friend’s feelings. You didn’t cause their depression, and you can’t cure it. Walking through it with them is one of the most valuable gifts you can give someone who’s depressed.
How about you? What are some other ways to help someone who is depressed?