It is not easy when people we care about are struggling with depression. Our own heart might break in seeing their emotional pain and we might be ready and willing to do anything to help, sometimes feeling too overwhelmed to know how. Clinical Psychologist Dr Janina Scarlet shares some steps that you might be able to take to support a loved one who is struggling with depression:
1. Take the pressure off yourself to “fix it.” A lot of times, we might think that we need to generate the perfect solution for our friend to help ease their struggle. The truth is that there is nothing you can say that will “fix” how they are feeling. Don’t try to help them see “the positive” of their situation and don’t try to purposely distract them. Instead of focusing on making your friend feel better, focus on just spending time with them regardless of how they feel. Just you being there, witnessing your friend’s suffering IS actually helping.
2. Ask them about their experiences. Ask how they are feeling, what their symptoms are like, what makes it better or worse. Talking to someone about their experiences and feeling understood can ease some of the emotional toll that depression can have on those who struggle with it.
3. Ask about suicide. Many people are afraid to ask about suicidal thoughts because they might be afraid that talking about it will make it worse. Actually, research is finding the opposite – being able to be honest about someone’s experience with suicidal thoughts can make it less likely that they are going to take their life and can help them to reach out for help if they need it. Ask, “Do you ever have thoughts about suicide? Do you have a plan of when and how you would do it?” If your friend says “yes,” do not shame them. Do not tell them that it is selfish or wrong to do so. Instead, let them know that you recognise that they are in a lot of pain to be feeling this way. If your friend is planning to take their life, call the local suicide hotline or the paramedics in order to get your friend the support that they need.
4. Creating a balance between social interactions and overwhelm. While small social gatherings (2-3 people) can be helpful, events involving large crowds and noise can be overwhelming for someone struggling with depression. Consider having a quieter, more intimate get together with your friend.
5. Check in and visit. Ask your friend if it is okay for you to check in with them and do. Knowing that someone is thinking of them can ease a person’s struggle with depression.
6. Mental health professionals. Finding a mental health professional can be a daunting task, especially if someone is struggling with depression. If possible, offer to help your friend find a therapist, ask if they would like you to go with them, even to just wait in the waiting room. Having a friend in one’s corner can be extremely helpful.
7. Self-care. This might seem counterintuitive but being able to support yourself while supporting a friend is crucial. If you are able to do something for yourself, taking a break from your responsibilities to focus on resting, can give you the resilience and emotional strength that you need to support others.
Remember that in every action you take to help your friend, you are planting seeds. You might not see a difference you are making, not right away. But just by caring, just by being there, you are helping more than you can possibly realise.
Super-Women: Superhero Therapy for Women Battling Depression, Anxiety & Trauma by Dr Janina Scarlet is out March 5 2020 and is priced at £10.99.
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