How to be a good friend to someone who has depression.
Man, it’s tricky knowing how to navigate a friendship after you learn that your friend is depressed, isn’t it?
Do you ask about it, or is that seen as nagging or bringing something up at the wrong time? But if you don’t, are you ignoring it and will they think you don’t care? If you take them out for drinks and A Jolly Good Knees Up will that make it worse because of all the alcohol?
What a mindf***.
With one in six of the UK suffering from mental health problems at the moment, chances are that you’re friends with someone who has depression.
Depression has a different effect on everyone, and even those who are going through a severe depressive episode are often able to mask it. If someone you’re close to has talked to you about their mental health, or you might think that they’re struggling and just want to be there for them, there are things you can do. Panic not.
Psychotherapist Emma Marlin has some simple advice: ‘If you have a friend who is depressed, know that person needs connection and contact. Don’t be put off if they don’t return your texts or calls – keep texting and calling. Let them know you are thinking of them and are there for them. It all reminds them that you care.’
‘Don’t be afraid to ask your friend how they really are,’ says Emma. ‘If they say ‘down or depressed,’ say something like, “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m here. I’m listening.” Don’t try to talk them out of how they are feeling or be afraid to ask them just how bad it is.
‘If your friend is opening up to you about dark thoughts or feelings, take it as a good sign because people who talk about suicidal thoughts are much less likely to act on them. If your friend tells you they have formulated a plan to act on those thoughts or feelings, take them to the nearest A&E so they can get the mental first aid they need.’
What about if you live with someone who’s going through depression, though? It can be hard, of course it can, to try to anticipate someone else’s mood. I can’t speak for all of us sad-sacks, but other people tiptoeing around us is not the dream.
If your mate has the norovirus, do you say that they’re bringing it on themselves and it’s not that bad really? If a friend has a chest infection, do you tell them it’s probably not as bad as they’re making it out to be in their own head? (If you do, please give yourself a shake, re-read this piece and then say in the mirror three times, ‘I am a crapbag.’)
Depression is a stagnant, sticky, thick syrupy pool of hell that it’s often near impossible to get out of, and even the most foolish puppy videos in the world won’t shift it. Don’t feel bad if your efforts aren’t making a visible difference – but do rein it in a bit, and just exist with your friend. Be alone, but together – and probably not in a pub, if you can help it, says Emma.
‘If you’re meeting up with a friend that you know is struggling, steer away from just drinking,’ she tells us. ‘Sure, booze will lifts spirits in the short term (which might make you feel more comfortable) but getting a depressed friend drunk is not a kind thing to do as it will make the depression worse the next day. If that person is already taking antidepressants (and you can’t always know this) alcohol, in even small quantities, can make them black out. Meet them for lunch instead or suggest a walk.’
‘If you try to cheer someone up and it’s not working you can actually make them feel worse as they might feel guilty for not responding to your attempts to make them feel better.
‘You need to let them know that you don’t think they’re to blame for being depressed and not being able to go somewhere or do something, anymore than someone on crutches is to blame for not being able to climb lots to stairs or walk up steep hills.’
Yes, depression is complicated and isolating and frightening. It’s f***ing annoying – and you can bet that your depressed mate thinks so, too. They may seem like they’re sacking you off; ignoring messages, declining invites and staying locked in their room – but please don’t leave them. Just knowing that someone’s there for them can save their life.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you can find a qualified local counsellor in your area with Counselling Directory . Mental health charity Mind also offer counselling services, and you can call The Samaritans on 116123 (UK and ROI). The NHS even have a little quiz you can take. If you can, visit your GP for further advice.