One of my best friends called me the other day and quietly confessed she was really depressed, and that she was really struggling lately. My heart sank for her and I immediately started that what-should-I-say-right-now conversation in my head. How can I help her? What can I say that will make her feel better in this moment? It was paralyzing at first and then I took a moment and thought about what I would want to hear and what I needed most when I had struggled with depression. Here are a 5 things that are easy for you to do right now to help someone with depression.
1. Don’t tell them to buck-up.
If someone you love has depression their attitude may come off as sad, down, bored, restless, angry, weepy, listless, quiet, distracted, reserved and even lazy. You may feel frustrated with them for what seems like a lack of trying to get well. You may feel the following phrases are encouraging: “Look on the bright side!”, “Think positive thoughts!”, “It will get better!”, “Maybe you just need to pretend you are happy and then it will follow!”. I understand this may FEEL helpful, but it really isn’t. In fact, it will only make them feel worse. Why? Because depression hijacks your brain and though you WANT to look on the bright side, you can’t. It feels like too much effort, that it’s an unattainable dream.
2. Call them, text them, email them and then do it again if you didn’t hear back.
Depression is lonely in the worst possible way. When you’re depressed you don’t really feel like talking. You also don’t want to be around people. That being said, it is essential that you reach out to your depressed friend/loved one and then KEEP REACHING OUT. When I get depressed I don’t want to talk to people because I feel like I’m no fun! Who would want to talk to me? I’m sad, I cry at the drop of a hat, I have zero motivation to do anything and I have nothing going on in my life except for this gigantic weight on my chest called depression. It’s dragging me down at every possible moment! Sounds like cheery conversation, right? That’s why your depressed loved one doesn’t want to reach out to you. So what CAN you do? If they are not calling or texting you, please take the initiative and call or text them. Ask them how they are REALLY doing. You want to know even if it isn’t all happy-carefree-love-the-world-stuff. Let them tell you about their lousy day. Yes, it’s hard to listen to people complain and be down, but just imagine for a moment that you are living with that day in and day out and can’t escape it. It’s heavy. It’s hard. By allowing them to share their burden, you make it lighter, easier even if it’s only a moment. Any small reprieve is like a small ray of sunshine. The best thing you can do is LISTEN and remember #1 from above.
It is very common for a depressed person to have destructive thoughts like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m a mess”, I’m a failure”. Take the time and tell them your favorite things about them. You could write them love notes and stick them all around the house, send them a random text message about a little thing you love about them or even compose a letter, a song or video–whatever is your thing. Don’t wait, do it right now!
4. Encourage them to seek help
I will be the first to tell you I never like hearing I need help. However, sometimes I need to be reminded that the best help for depression can come from someone who is not knee deep in trying to survive it (me) or live day-to-day with it (my family). On more than one occasion my husband has lovingly told me he was worried about me and wondered if maybe it was time I call my therapist. Many times I g0t very mad at him for suggesting such a thing (nearly every time), but in the end I knew he was right. I got mad because I didn’t want him to be right. I so desperately didn’t want to be “that bad” that I needed professional help.
If your friend or loved one is resistant to therapy, be encouraging and PATIENT. I would highly recommend doing the leg work in finding a list of professional counselor(s). And by list, I mean 2 or 3 names tops. Decision-making is not the easiest when you aren’t feeling well so keeping that list short will make it feel easier to pick up the phone and call.
5. Pray for them, Pray with them
Never under estimate the power of prayer! Praying by ourselves is easy and convenient to do which is probably why we do it the most often, however it is extremely special when you are with someone who is praying for you. Hearing someone’s verbal desire for you to get well creates such a sense of “I’m not alone in this”, which is extraordinarily powerful. Your prayer doesn’t have to be anything remarkable. Keep it simple, speak from the heart and God will always hear your prayer! I’ve included some bible passages below as a starting point.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Deuteronomy 31:8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Psalm 34:17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
Psalm 40: 1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all;
Helping someone with depression can be daunting, maybe even scary, but following these 5 steps will give you a starting to point to support someone you love when they are depressed. Don’t wait! Take action TODAY! For a depressed person one day can feel like an eternity. Never underestimate the power of one small gesture.
These are suggestions from my own experience and in no way take the place of a medical professional. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.