How to Support a Friend Struggling with Depression Symptoms
Depression is a weight, but it’s also mostly invisible to the outside world. It holds no color, yet absorbs all the colors. Those with depression appreciate beauty and the little stuff of life, but that invisible weight stands between them and everything else.
You know your friend with depression is strong while suffering great vulnerability, and for that reason, you feel ill-equipped to reach out to them. You worry you don’t know how — that you’ll say something to make it worse or misjudge them accidentally — but you’re one of the best people present to be supportive. Sometimes, all that means is being there and holding space for them.
Just “be” together
See, space is a tricky thing for someone who’s depressed. Remember the awkward invisible weight thing? Sometimes, you feel numb, like you’re this passive observer to everyone and everything. Aliens put you on Earth to take notes as some kind of ambassador-anthropologist. Other times, you feel everything, and it won’t stop. You long for space, so you take it away from everyone, not wanting to inflict your shadows upon them. You might have feelings that you’re a waste of space, but you kick yourself for having those feelings, too.
As an aside, you should look out for a few warning flags when it comes to the possibility of suicide. If you notice your friend starting to give treasured items away, increasing their use of drugs or verbalizing specific ways they’d commit or plan to commit suicide, do not blame or lecture — offer to increase your communication rate with your friend.
Holding space for someone takes on a new, literal meaning. So, just be together — even if that’s staring into space and chatting about inconsequential things.
Get specific about how you will help
You know how awkward it feels when someone says, “Let me know how I can help,” or “I’m around if you need anything” when someone dies. Nothing ever comes of it, and the offer sits stagnant in the air — another thing to think about — how can you help someone when you don’t even know how? It feels similar when someone poses well-meaning but vague offers of help.
Even asking questions takes up a huge degree of energy that someone suffering from depression symptoms can’t muster — and that’s OK. So, get specific with how you will help. Look for needs and help fill them in the most natural way you can.
Say, “I’ll swing by, bring you your favorite takeout tomorrow and we’ll go for a walk.” Say, “I’m your go-to hug person. Squish me anytime, anywhere.” Make sure you say what you mean and do as you say.
Get to know their specific condition
Depression comes in as many forms as there are different types of experiences and personalities. No one experiences depression in the same way, and to truly get an idea of what your friend goes through objectively, you need to get to know their specific form of depression.
Major depression isn’t the only type of depression — some forms and symptoms are manageable and make the person look highly functional or neurotypical. Maybe they “hide” it well, or the symptoms come and go. They may not even know they suffer depression symptoms until they address other conditions, such as anxiety, and notice later because their mind’s in a different space. That doesn’t make their experiences any less challenging.
Chronic depression, or dysthymia, means someone suffers from a milder form of depression. Atypical depression is also unique in that sufferers don’t have the standard, stereotypical symptoms you see on TV, and their symptoms may include sleeping too much, feeling anxious and gaining weight. Some forms of depression come after significant events in life, such as postpartum depression — experiencing depression after birth. Bipolar depression takes sufferers on a rollercoaster of manic, euphoric periods and deep lows.
Ask your friend about how they experience their depression, but take it easy if they clearly don’t want to talk about it. Show you’re not around to lecture or look like some holier-than-thou smartypants just because you read something online.
You’re automatically helping just by being a supportive friend. Use these tips to reach out to a friend who is struggling with depression symptoms. Depression is a leading cause of disability, with 350 million sufferers worldwide, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Remember, depression isn’t anything to blame anyone for, and there are many kinds. Just being together, laughing at random thoughts, helping out with small daily tasks and getting to know what depression is like for them are some of the best forms of support you can give.