Supporting someone with depression can often feel like a minefield – how do you know what ‘supportive’ actually looks like, without being too in-your-face or too standoff-ish? Today, Your Best You takes a look at what not to do, and offers some simple and practical advice on what you should do, to support someone with depression.
With mental health awareness increasing, it’s brilliant to see that we are finally starting to talk openly about mental illness, because it’s extremely prevalent. In Australia alone, it’s thought that 45% of the population will experience a mental illness of some type within their lifetime. I’ve seen lots of articles floating around giving generic advice on what to do if someone you know has a mental illness (or, more specifically, depression), so today I’m presenting a handy “what not to do” guide.
There’s lots of advice out there – type ‘How to support someone with depression’ into Google and you’ll find around 63,300,000 results – so this is by no means an exhaustive list. Instead, this is a list of some of the simplest things to do/not to do to support someone with depression. Get involved and add your suggestions to the Comments field or on the Your Best You page on Facebook (see below for the link).
My main tips for what not to do in order to support someone with depression, based on my personal experience, are:
- DON’T be afraid of catching it – it’s not the plague, people; you are not going to catch it. Simple as that.
- DON’T avoid the person completely, as though they were Kim Kardashian and you were good taste – sure, when you catch up with someone who has depression they are probably not going to be the life and soul of the party, however that doesn’t mean that you should avoid them; after all, they still have feelings! In fact, avoiding someone with depression can sometimes contribute to making things worse; some people (not necessarily all) may experience heightened sensitivity and insecurity so your decision, be it conscious or unconscious, to give them space can actually trigger off a whole stream of self-doubt. Yes, it can be difficult to be around someone with depression, however if you genuinely care for the person then you will find that the effort you invest in being there for them will actually help that person in the long run.
- DON’T share the story of your mum’s uncle’s best-friend’s daughter who was a bit sad that one time – everyone’s depression is different. It is a highly individual experience and so hearing about Wilhelmina from Williamstown and her struggles is likely to be of little use to the person you’re talking to. Plus it’s probably going to piss them off. Don’t ask me why, it’s just really annoying to have to sit and hear about the journey of someone you know nothing about when all you want to do is crawl back into bed and eat chocolate. Well, for me it is anyway. Focus on the person you are talking to.
- DON’T tell the person to “suck it up, princess” – like a red rag to a bull, this one. Look, I’m a big fan of tough love and I have often told others to pull their head out of their backsides when it’s obvious they’re being ridiculous or are in line to win a Drama Queen of the Year award. However when it comes to depression, it’s not simply a case of choosing to be done with it. I personally believe that anyone can choose their mood at any given moment, however I also know that doing so can be ten times harder when feeling weighed down with the dark clouds of depression. It’s not something that you can simply tell someone to snap out of, however you can encourage them to take it one step at a time and practice choosing the mood that they want rather than choosing the mood that depression might be trying to give them. If they achieve a positive mood, brilliant! If they stumble a bit and end up sliding into a ‘dark funk’ day, so be it! Congratulate them for giving it a go, encourage them to accept that it is what it is and if they need to go with their feelings then go with them, and encourage the person to try again tomorrow. Step by step.
- DON’T stop trying to make plans with the person – OK, I understand how frustrating it is if you attempt to make plans with someone and they either decline most of the time or often cancel at the last minute. I have done this a lot to friends and, as a result, my invitations are now few and far between. I don’t judge them for it, however it does hurt a bit. Some days I wake up and I’m in a good headspace. Other days I wake up and I don’t have the energy to go to the letterbox, let alone a get-together. Yes it’s inconvenient for you, yes it’s frustrating when you may have declined other offers since you had plans with me, yes it throws your day/night out. Sorry. However I cannot always control how I am going to feel and, for me personally, one of my common symptoms is that of withdrawing completely. No amount of you telling me that I should just get out there and that doing something will make me feel better is going to change the fact that, on this particular day, I feel like crap. Please show some genuine understanding rather than judgement or annoyance. I’ll appreciate it forever.
- DON’T turn into Oprah and start giving the person advice on how to overcome it – ever since I came out of the closet about my depression, I’ve been bemused by the psychiatric abilities of a large portion of the population. A couple of months ago, I was dealing with a Government department and the lady I was dealing with spent 10 minutes talking me through the specific medications and natural remedies that her husband had tried for his anxiety disorder. Seriously, 10 minutes. I know she meant well, however it goes back to what I said earlier about not treating people as though depression is a ‘one size fits all’ thing. Since it took me a year and a half to work through different treatments with my doctor before we found the medication mix that worked best for me, I couldn’t really do anything with the information she provided me. By all means share, if you deliver it with a caveat: “What helped my friend/relative/neighbour/postman was… although I know it’s not the same for everyone, so I’ll leave it with you in case it’s something you hadn’t thought of before”.
The things that you SHOULD do are actually quite straight-forward:
- DO be kind, patient and supportive
- DO understand that the person needs support, so offer it (without bombarding them)
- DO stay in touch – simply sending a message every few days or every week to say ‘hi’ and sharing some funny anecdote can be a wonderful way to stay in touch and show you are thinking of that person
- DO be understanding if you don’t get a response or if the person doesn’t want to catch up – it’s not personal, they’re just not in that space at the moment, so try again later
- DO keep on including them in invitations for events and/or casual catch-ups – sure, the person may decline every time you invite them to do something or they may say ‘yes’ then cancel at the last minute because they’re feeling under the weather emotionally; be understanding and accept that this is part of what’s going on for them, and just keep on inviting them to things because eventually they will show up… this is where your patience is most important!
- DO show empathy rather than sympathy – if the person opens up to you, listen to them and offer empathy rather than sympathy; they don’t need pity (which is a close cousin of sympathy), they need understanding, so opt for empathy as it’s more constructive to objectively acknowledge what the person is feeling
- DO be their friend/loved one
If you have any tips on DO’s and DON’Ts, please share them in the Comments field or on the Your Best You Facebook page (www.facebook.com/yourbestyouonline) where this article will be reposted (and please remember to ‘Like’ the page/post!).