Depression is a mental illness and one that is often surrounded in shame for the sufferer and misunderstanding by others, leading often to those suffering with depression to feel even more isolated from the people around them.
Mental Health Awareness Week is stressing the importance of relationships in helping people overcome mental illnesses. If you have a friend who you know, or believe to be, depressed, here are 5 ways you can support them:
Keep communication open
You might find that they begin to isolate themselves from you, cutting themselves off from even those closest to them, turning down invitations and ignoring communications. Depression can often make it difficult for the sufferer to relate to other people and can make social situations that may have previously been a source of enjoyment, a source of unease and anxiety. However even if your invitations are rejected, continue to reach out to them regularly – they will appreciate it even if it may not seem like it.
Don’t add to the pressure they’re already putting on themselves
Don’t tell them you’re going to “cheer them up” or, even worse, just tell them to “cheer up”. Your goal may be to alleviate the symptoms on that given day, but you need to accept that you may not be able to, and certainly not able to long-term. No matter how good your intentions are, by telling them that it’s your aim to cheer them up, you’re putting a pressure on them to perform and one that they may not be able to achieve – you don’t know how much effort it has taken them just to leave their bed that day.
Don’t take it personally
You asked how their day was going and they just seemed annoyed? Often people with depression can be easily irritated, suffering in a haze of spiraling negative thoughts that are often accompanied by a severe lack of self-worth.
Your usually sociable friend can’t make your birthday party? If they could be there, they would. Whilst to you their sudden disinterest and avoidance might come across as a lack of care, from their point of view they may be acting in such a way because they care about you. Depression can make the sufferer feel like they’re a burden and can lead to them cutting themselves off from those around them.
Their behaviour is neither because of, or about, you. Getting annoyed, or avoiding them completely, is only going to make them feel more isolated and potentially result in them further isolating themselves from you.
Try empathy, not sympathy
If you met someone who had lost their legs, you wouldn’t turn to them and say, “oh well, on the bright side at least you still have arms!” Though there’s nothing wrong with optimism and a positive outlook, don’t dismiss your friend’s concerns or feelings by comparing their situation with a worse fate.
Let them know you’re there for them
Sometimes the best thing you can say is that whilst you may not be able to understand what they’re going through, you are here for them. And being there for someone doesn’t mean forcing them to talk, it doesn’t mean trying to fix them and it doesn’t mean treating someone any differently. All it means is that, when needed, you’ll listen, without judgement and without trying to make it better.