The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as:
A common and serious illness that negatively affects how you feel; the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function.
When scientifically studied, depression describes itself as a mood disorder, a treatable one. However, for those who suffer from depression, this definition does not do justice to the complexity and depth of what they feel at their core.
And as a person who seeks guidance to help someone with depression; that depth is exactly what you must understand.
The Core of Depression and its Effects
According to WHO, depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide. Yet, the population as a whole is still not aware of its intensity.
Depression is not something you can “get over”; neither is it a disorder that “just needs a bit of tough love”. As a global population, we must not trivialize depression and its effects.
As a friend, you may wonder how you can contribute to your loved one’s ease. After all, depression is something that grows due to a number of internal and external issues.
You can, however, do your own part in making your friend’s life more comfortable.
How to Help a Friend with Depression
1. Be There
Depression makes you feel paranoid, alone and angry. And in these instances, it pays to have a friend around whose just there because they want to be.
As that friend, listen, and be a shoulder for them to lean on. Be patient. Remember; if your friend is depressed, they may not want to speak about their problems. But they will want to have someone near them. That closeness will allow them to open up because at one point, they will want to have a listening ear around them.
When they speak to you, say things like “I understand”. Many a times, the person speaking doesn’t want an opinion; they just want someone to understand.
2. Remove the Stigma
Our society thrives on open conversation and freedom of speech. But we’re still a long way from de-stigmatizing depression.
Rather than addressing their issues, this overall attitude of the community against depression makes that person suffering feel that perhaps their problems aren’t big enough. They dismiss their issues by stating, “Everyone goes through things. Everyone’s stressed. It’s no big deal.” And that’s something you must change.
While many in our society are trying to remove misconceptions about depression, a greater focus should also be on those going through it.
Be compassionate, and make them understand that depression isn’t something to be brushed aside.
They have every right to talk about their problems. Stress on this: “Yes, many people in the world have their problems. They suffer. But their troubles do not take away from the intensity of what you go through. You are important, and your life is important.”
3. Be Patient
Battling depression is like battling with an inner demon that speaks in your own voice. That demon targets your weak points, your desires and your choices, and makes you feel worse about them. Think about this the next time you feel angry or frustrated when your friend does not open up.
As the person outside of that glass bowl of depression, you have the right to feel frustrated when your efforts aren’t fruitful. But try to understand that at the end of the day, your very existence in that person’s personal sphere is enough. You cannot give them an ultimatum, or use silence or push their boundaries because you’re becoming impatient with their behavior.
Consider it from their perspective. They’re battling not just their own thoughts, but your anger against their feelings as well. That will only make the feel worse.
4. Avoid Comparisons and Advice
Isn’t it annoying when you’re talking about your own feelings, and the other person interrupts with their own tale of woe?
Yes, remember that annoyance, and try not to do the same. Unless you’ve gone through a similar episode in your life, saying that you know exactly what your friend is going through is not helpful. Minimize your conversation of past experiences or someone else’s experience. Again, just be there for them. The best way to help them reach of their zone is to present them with a comforting state.
And control that urge to give advice. In times like this, don’t tell them what they should be doing. Instead, ask them “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Give them the opportunity to know that they will receive love from you when they need it. Wait to be asked for help.
5. Learn as Much as You Can about Depression
Romanticism of depression has led to many misconceptions about this mental illness. Do not allow yourself to be guided by these thoughts.
Depression isn’t a cloud of sadness that hovers over the person at all points in their life. It ebbs and flows, lessening and increasing the impact of the symptoms, and that’s something that should be understood. This is why depression is so complex. While it does allow you to live life properly one day, it can snatch away your energy and happiness the next.
Make yourself aware of the illness and understand the importance of surrounding someone with depression, with those who have their best interest at heart.
Having depression is exhausting. As a friend, provide them with love, compassion and companionship. We all need to feel supported and loved. And while it’s hard to see your friend suffer through so much, it will benefit them in the long run, when they see someone appreciate and support them through these trying times.