A Depressed Friend Can Be Emotionally Draining
While we love our friends and want them to lead their best lives, helping a depressed friend can sometimes feel like an emotionally draining process.
We worry because they no longer seem like themselves. We get frustrated because they are not taking our advice, which we believe worked for us in similar situations.
Most of all, we can’t understand why they behave in ways we wouldn’t.
Before jumping into action mode, take a step back to better understand the condition that plagues those suffering from depression.
[Depression is] that very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.
Depression is classified by long-term low moods, exhaustion and even physical pain. In other words, our sadness is not their depression, and what helps us overcome sadness might not help them overcome their depression.
Principal Psychologist at Resilienz, Ms Elizabeth Ho, would like us to know that depressed people can’t just “snap out of it” and having depression doesn’t mean the person is weak or pathetic.
Like cancer, they just happen to suffer from a condition and the pathway to recovery might not be linear.
Below, we break down simple steps to be present for them without feeling overwhelmed.
1. Be aware of your own mental health
When it comes to issues of mental health, we are not always in tune with our own emotional state. Perhaps we might be feeling stressed due to work and relationships, which might not put us in the right frame of mind to help a depressed friend.
Take care of yourself first because you are the only person you can control. This way, you won’t get short with friends who are depressed.
2. Draw boundaries
One lesson I have to keep on learning is that we can’t control people or outcomes. Yes, we can make decisions or say certain things, but people might not respond in the way we expect them to.
When we learn to differentiate who we are from others, we put less pressure on them to react a certain way and feel less disappointed when they don’t.
3. Encourage them to seek a professional’s help
Just as you wouldn’t dish out advice like “Oh, you should exercise more to boost your endorphins” to cancer patients, depressed people often need a professional’s help too.
Ms Ho explains, “Suggest and encourage the individual to seek professional help together if the individual expresses suicidal intent or ideation.”
4. Validate their feelings
“I’m sorry that you’re feeling ____; that sounds quite a lot to deal with,” is a sentence Ms Ho suggests to help build a sense of empathy.
She also says we should not attempt to minimise or criticise their pain, and it might be helpful to show that you are actively listening by asking questions such as, “What can I do to help you feel better?”
5. Stay connected
Patrick Malborough of Vice expresses, “Depression steals your soul and then it takes your friends.”
People who are depressed often blame themselves, deem themselves unworthy of love and friendship, and cut themselves off from society. Unfortunately, a sense of connection is what they need to get back on their feet.
If you want to be kind to them, show them you are still available through texts, a card and helping them with simple errands.
6. Don’t feel pressurised into helping them
Sometimes, watching our depressed friends or relatives triggers a saviour complex or a sense of guilt that we can’t help them.
However, Ms Ho explains that your presence is already lending support to them. “Let them cry, and you can just hold their hand.”
You can’t save everybody, but your presence and kind intentions are enough. Sometimes a silent presence can provide healing to those who feel lonely.
7. Accompany them to exercise and spend time in nature
A simple jog or even a walk in the park should suffice. In his very illuminating book about depression, Lost Connections, Johann Hari expounds a case study where depressed people were given a chance to take care of a garden together and it helped them.
Nature’s sense of timing, which does not conform to our expectations and impatience, helped the patients regain a sense of meaning and structure while they showed love and care to the plants.
8. Take care of yourself first
This bears repeating—when we show love and kindness to ourselves first, we are more patient and kind with others.
When we exemplify self-compassion, our depressed friends can be encouraged by how we talk to and treat ourselves. Even our presence will be more calming and assuring to them.
We will also be less likely to jump into “fix yourself” mode, which is detrimental to their fragile emotions.
9. Be encouraging
We live in a culture that is often too critical. When I was a teacher, we were told to constantly encourage students to motivate them positively.
Don’t adults need encouragement too?
Don’t hold back on encouragement and kind words, because as a culture, we’re told to look for what’s wrong in our lives. In a way, depressed people need help to see positive aspects of themselves, which can strengthen and motivate them.
Helping A Depressed Friend
The bottom line is, take care of yourself first and that will allow you to take care of others. It’s better to admit we don’t understand the condition than to make assumptions. Only then can you be the help your friend needs without exacting a toll on yourself.
Cover image by Ben Blennerhassett / Unsplash