No one likes to watch someone they love struggle. I know, I’ve been there. When my little sister started struggling with depression at 17, I felt helpless and frustrated. She was obviously going through something hard, that at the time I didn’t understand, and I have no idea how to help.
It’s frustrating, heartbreaking and can be downright scary to have someone you love be hurting and not know how to help them. Depression (and anxiety) looks a little bit different for everyone. It’s a very personal struggle and, in order to feel better, it requires a lot of effort from the affected individual. But that doesn’t mean you’re left helplessly watching as they spiral into a deep depression. Here’s something you can do to help a friend or family member cope.
Keep in mind that everyone is different and this is a short list, but here’s a few ways to help.
Read about depression. Talk to other people you know who might be willing to share their experiences or stories with you. Familiarize yourself with different types and symptoms so you can pick up on them sooner.
Share your broken
People want to know they aren’t the only one who’s felt broken. You may not be struggling with depression but you’ve been through some really hard days and some heartbreaking moments in your life. Be willing to share your hard and broken moments. Your vulnerability will help them feel more safe being open and honest with you about where they are and how they’re feeling.
Get interested & listen
Ask simple questions and be genuinely interested in their responses. Remember, you’re trying to understand, not fix the person. Fixing is an inside job. Ask them things like: How long have you felt this way? Do you think there’s any specific thing or person that triggers is? Is there anything that makes you feel better or worse? What do you need from me as your friend?
Treat them normal
No one wants to feel too fragile, broken or like your charity case. Just be their genuine friend or loved one. Once asking some of the above questions you’ll have a better idea of things to say or not say that might be helpful. But honestly, just be patient, kind and normal!
Whatever it takes. Make farting noises, read popsicle jokes, watch a funny movie, or head to a local comedy club. Laughter is medicine to everyone, but especially those struggling with depression. When we laugh our brain releases the feel-good chemicals like dopamine. So laugh whenever possible, but don’t force it. PLEASE don’t treat their mood like a project you have to fix.
Be encouraging and empowering
Remind your friend that they won’t always feel this way. Be genuine and remember that depression can feel like a black hole to those who are in the middle of it. It feels helpless and hopeless. Make sure to acknowledge that feeling, acknowledge that you might not totally “get it” but that even though it doesn’t feel like it now that things will get better. Another great way to empower them is to authentically remind your friend of their strengths. Remind them that getting out of bed every morning while battling this is a MAJOR victory in itself. Whatever you love or admire about them, say it.
Help them find support
Please, please, please help break the stigma. Encourage your friend to go see a doctor, go to therapy, find a coach, group or program to support them through this struggle. Not feeling alone during this fight can be a literal lifeline. Remind them there’s no shame in seeking help, tell them about a time that you went through a hard thing and got help. Getting started is often the hardest part, so helped a friend through those first steps can be instrumental.
I offer free 15 minute support calls to people like you who know and love someone who is struggling. During these calls I answer any questions you have an help you figure out another way to support them. You can also mention the call to help point your friend towards some of these resources. Email [email protected] to set on up!