It is hard to understand someone else’s depression but it is good that you want to understand it.
Kind words will not cure depression but they are (for obvious reasons) welcome. You cannot fix your friend, family member or loved one. If you try to do this both of you will become very frustrated.
There is no set road to recovery. A depressed person will not always welcome help. Remember that mood swings are common in depression.
If you do not understand, do not say that you do. Unless you yourself have had clinical depression, you cannot really say that you know what they are going through. Be honest about what you do and don’t know. Admitting what you don’t know does not mean you have failed your friend.
A person who is depressed does not want to depress other people. You have all heard the saying, “misery loves company”, but this statement can be misleading. I would not wish depression on my worst enemy. Try not to view their depression as a burden that you have to bear. It is not your affliction and if you talk as though it is you will provoke unnecessary guilt. You may feel down or frustrated that you can’t help your friend but clinical depression is not catching. Sure, being around sad people doesn’t tend to lift your spirits but being sad and being depressed cannot be compared. Try to realise what this person is going through. Don’t always take what a depressed person says to heart. Misunderstanding, stigma, judgement and general ‘fedupness’ with the condition is guaranteed to make someone who is depressed irritable and, in some cases, angry. This should not excuse violent or abusive behaviour but it is important to remember that the person is not well and will not always be thinking rationally.
A person can have depression for a long time. Don’t think that if you have been diagnosed with depression that you will be afflicted with it indefinitely. You could make a speedy recovery but is important that you get the treatment you need. Treatment could involve many fundamental changes in a person’s life and thinking. Once your friend/relative etc. starts to recover, it may seem like they are an entirely different person. In reality, depression probably hid the person you once knew. It will be good to have them back, wouldn't it?
Depressed people tend to seek, remember and rationalise the negative comments and forget or discount the positive. You don’t have to go overboard with compliments but do remind your friend why you love them and what they have going for them etc. they wont feel smug and they may not believe what you are saying but it will remain in the back of their minds and it will show them that you care.
Depressed people can push people away. I know that I do this because I fear I will affect those I love and care about. Isolation doesn’t help but sometimes it is the only way we believe we can cope. This type of self-sabotage is a symptom of depression and it should not discourage you from being there for your friend. Don’t let depression sabotage your relationship as well. Isolation is irrational but it doesn’t seem so to me because I am not well myself.
What To Say
Having people who want to understand will be essential to their recovery.
There are many types of depression. If you want to know more about each type, I’m sure google will be happy to assist you.
Encourage and help them to strengthen themselves physically, mentally and emotionally as much as possible given their depressed state.
Depression is isolating. Even when a depressed person is in a room full of people, they can feel invisible. It’s hard to stand there and pretend when you don’t feel a glimmer of hope or happiness.
Above all, a depressed person needs compassion and understanding. Exhortations to "snap out of it" or "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" are counterproductive. The best communication is simply to ask, "How can I be of support?" or "How can I help?"
Provide physical support if they aren’t able to do as much as they used to. For example, you could offer to cook them dinner one night. You don’t have to take over their lives (I would hate that!). It would just be nice to help someone out who may be too physically and mentally exhausted to carry out everyday activities.
Encourage your friend to make a list of daily self-care activities, and encourage them to put them into practice.
Suicidal thoughts or proclamations must ALWAYS be taken seriously. Don’t assume that those who talk about their feelings/suicidal thoughts are attention seeking. Saying that suicide is selfish is not constructive advice. This thought would have crossed their mind a million times over so it needn’t be said.
This site is good if you want a brief explanation of what types of depression there are:
The various treatments for depression can be found on here:
There are many different types of antidepressants but I don’t think it’s important to go into too much depth. If you know what medication your friend/family member is taking then do some research. Don’t be freaked out by all of the potential side affects but be aware that they do exist and that they can be hard to deal with. In some cases, the depressed person would rather put up with a few unwanted side affects, especially if it is helping them to feel better mentally.
It is clear to those who are depressed that antidepressants are not "happy pills." There is no street-market in antidepressants. Unlike recreational drugs such as speed and ecstasy, antidepressants only improve the mood of depressed people. The mood-improving effects of antidepressants develop slowly over a number of weeks. Recreational drugs induce a highly artificial state; antidepressants cause the brain to slowly increase its production of naturally occurring neurotransmitters.
Some of the best things you can say to your depressed friend/family member:
- "I love you!"
- "I care."
- "You're not alone in this."
- "I'm not going to leave/abandon you."
- "Do you want a hug?"
- "When all this is over, I'll still be here and so will you."
- "Would you like to hold my hand and talk about it?"
- "I can't fully understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion."
- "I'm sorry you're in so much pain."
- "I sympathise with what you are going through."
- "I am not going to leave you. I am going to take care of myself, so you don't need to worry that your pain might hurt me."
- "I can't imagine what it's like for you. I just can't imagine how hard it must be."
- "You are important to me."
- "If you need a friend, I am here."
Do look after yourself. You may become frustrated when your well-meaning advice and emotional reassurance is met with resistance. Do not take your loved one's pessimism personally - it is a symptom of depression. It is not your fault.
Support, love, try to understand, offer compassion and do not let their illness ruin the friendship/relationship you had beforehand.
I know I haven’t covered everything so feel free to contribute if you think it will help.
Other Useful Links
- The Health and Relationships subforum - Discuss any problems you might be having here.
- The depression society - Talk to other people with depression here.
- Mental Health - Read useful articles on mental health
- Useful Link and Phone Numbers - A list of contacts if you need help