Monday, 16 May 2011

How to help a friend with depression

I've read a fair few websites offering advice on how to help people you care about when they have depression. I had intended to provide some links in case anyone was interested, but in the end I couldn't find one source with which I completely agreed.
So I decided to have a go at putting together my own list of pointers. I'm not sure it's fully comprehensive, but the most important things should be there.

How to help someone with depression; What you should do and what you shouldn’t do

1.      Learn something about depression
So many people don’t properly understand what depression, what the symptoms are and how they could actually make a positive difference to someone suffering from it.
There are loads of good resources out there that are easy to find, even just the NHS website or Wikipedia list common symptoms.
Knowing a bit about depression can help a lot in trying to understand your friend with depression, and showing you’ve put some effort in to it can help show your friend you care and that you take their illness seriously. At the very least, learn that when you are depressed you see the world in a very negative and inaccurate way and that everything is difficult.
2.      Ask them how they are
Genuinely. Again, a lot of people with depression feel like no-one really cares or takes their problem seriously. Checking up on them, reminds them that you are there and care about them.
You should also be aware that they’re not likely to give a positive answer, and you shouldn’t expect one. Try not to get frustrated with their negative view and don’t try to correct them, just tell them that you care and want to help.
3.      Offer help
They might not be willing to accept it, but still offer, or just let them know that you are there if they need anything.
The kind of help they might need will vary depending on the person and the situation; someone might want to talk, some might want a cup of tea and a distraction, sometimes someone might need something collecting from a shop.  Don’t be overly insistent on meeting face-to-face if they don’t want to or on making them go out/do anything else they aren’t happy with.
4.      Don’t say;
Pull yourself together. Things aren’t that bad. There are other people in worse situations. Your life isn’t that bad. It’s not such a big deal. Get some sleep and it’ll be better in the morning.
Or anything similar. It really doesn’t help.
5.      Don’t judge them by their depressed behaviour
People with depression will do and say things that are out of character for their non-depressed selves. Don’t judge them for it and don’t take it personally. Depressed people can get defensive and irritable, they will often push people away, intentionally or not, but it’s not an accurate reflection of their feelings. They need you now and they will need you in the future to help them recover, you standing by them will mean the world when they are able to properly appreciate it.
6.      Don’t make out like it’s their fault
Placing blame is never helpful. Someone with depression is more than capable of beating themselves up about the problem being their fault without someone else telling them. You will either make them feel worse or trigger their defences and lead to them getting angry and pushing you away.
It isn’t their fault, it isn’t a choice. If you’ve taken my initial advice and learnt something about depression then you will know this.
7.      Listen
A lot of the time, people with depression aren’t looking for advice, and even if you offer it, they’ll likely shoot it down. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t feel you have to say anything. So just listen to what they have to say and accept that it is true, at least it is in their mind, even if it’s not how you see things. Depression isn’t always about the way things are but the way things seem to the sufferer.
8.      Hug
Hugs and physical contact are comforting to everyone when they feel upset or vulnerable. Hugs can be especially helpful for depressed people, if they are comfortable with it (sometimes you don’t want to be touched or even be around people), showing you care and providing comfort.
Don’t be surprised if your depressed friend cries on you.
9.      Send a Text, email or card
Sometimes depression can really mess with your mind and formulating your thoughts and feelings can actually be quite challenging. Being able to communicate in writing is often helpful as you have more chance to say what you actually mean. It also means that if you respond in writing your friend can keep a physical copy of what you say, so they can look back at the positive things you say and the support you offer at a later time as simply remembering good things is really difficult for people with depression.

Absolutely DO – show you care
Absolutely DON’T – blame them


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