Depression — have you been there? Those who have aren’t likely to forget it.
Basic tasks become cumbersome monsters, impossible to conquer. Brushing your teeth can feel like a marathon. Sunshine is offensive. Rainy days make it worse.
I have a friend who suffers terribly from depression. It breaks my heart to see. At first, everything inside of me wanted to drag her out of her house into a world of sunshine and happiness. Maybe she would feel better if, well, if she just tried? I talked to her about how beautiful life is. Reminded her of her countless blessings. Because that will totally fix it!
I wasn’t being helpful. In fact, I was being clueless.
Depression isn’t rooted in laziness or ingratitude.
And while my intentions weren’t innately bad — I realized I was trying to make myself feel better about her depression.
I spoke with my friend. I asked her outright: What should someone do for a loved one who is suffering? What helps?
Together, we discussed her feelings. Her perspective. Her pain. And then we worked on some changes that I could make that really helped me become a better friend.
1. Ask and accomplish.
First of all, ask your friend: What is overwhelming you most right now?
Is she tired from a fussy baby? Are the dishes in the sink feeling like an impossible task? Maybe the laundry is piled up to the ceiling and it makes her want to hide in bed.
Whatever is overwhelming her today, do it. Hold her baby so she can shower and sleep. Start a load of dishes. Fold the laundry. It’s amazing what a small thing can do for the mindset of an overwhelmed sufferer.
2. Understand that depression is a chemical, physical illness.
Many invisible illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. You wouldn’t tell a buddy with a broken leg to just “walk it off.” In the same way, your hurting friend can’t make the pain just disappear by thinking good thoughts or by sheer will. Be kind. Be patient. Your friend is sick, in legitimate pain, and in need of support.
3. Offer your presence with no expectations.
Sometimes, doing little things can make a huge difference. Check in with a phone call. Drop off a Starbucks with a hug. Offer to babysit. But do these things with no strings attached and no expectations. Your friend’s mood may not visibly brighten when you are with her, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t helping. Remember that her sadness is the illness. Try not to take it personally.
4. Notice — and celebrate — little efforts.
Did she make it outdoors today? Does her hair look nice? This may seem like common sense, but tell her! Little encouragements are very affirming to someone who is pushing back against their depression.
5. Know your limits.
Your friend has an illness that merits professional intervention. You are not her doctor, so don’t try to be. Suggesting ways that you think she could feel better is really a bad idea unless she asks. What you can and should do is be a shoulder to cry on, a hand to reach for, and a hug that is sorely needed.
Depression is hard. Not only on the sufferer, but on their loved ones as well. But you as a friend have a powerful opportunity. You can bring a little sunshine to someone stuck in the rain.
And that is a beautiful thing.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or another related mental illness, visit ADAA for information on treatment options and referrals.