Set boundaries for yourself and others
Being there for someone with depression can be hard, hard work.
I’m forever grateful for my wife for standing by my side when I was, to be honest, a general pain to be around.
That being said, you have a right to protect your own health and happiness.
1. You might need a break from your friend
If you’ve been on the phone with your friend every night for three weeks straight discussing their issues, it’s normal to get burnt out.
It’s normal to need a break, and you should take one.
You know yourself best, and you know when you are outside your capacity to be helpful.
Excuse yourself when needed, and remember that your friend might have negative comments about your decision.
You don’t need to engage with the comment because you can do this instead.
2. Connect with the feeling
There’s a metaphor that helps with this that I learned when I was teaching the Family-to-Family course for NAMI.
You want to land on the same emotional runway that your friend takes off from.
So, if they are talking about how everyone hates them and that they will never amount to anything in life, rather than responding to the content, which can zig and zag all over the place, you want to respond to the general feeling–the runway.
Instead of saying, “Yeah, you might be right” or “Why do you think everyone hates you?”, you could say:
“Wow, it sounds like you’re feeling all alone right now” or “It seems like you’re feeling disconnected from everything. That’s tough.”
One response continues to feed a false narrative.
The other helps them come down for landing on a safe runway.
3. Make friends with other people in your life
Finally, when it all becomes too tough, you must surround yourself with other people who lift you up.
This doesn’t mean you’re ditching the other person–it just means that you know you have a right to protect yourself and your own mood.
Don’t give advice
1. Don’t fix
This one might be considered the parent problem.
When I was working in the mental health field, I would frequently work with youth and their parents.
And, more often than not, parents wanted to fix their kids’ problems and help them feel better.
It’s only natural when you see your child struggling.
But this is not how depression works.
The person with depression must work their way out of it, often with the help of a combination of medicine, exercise, and the support of mental health professionals.
It’s easy to take on the burden of needing to save your “depressed friend.”
But there is no “depressed person.”
There is a human being living with something incredibly difficult, and this human being must navigate the depths of the darkness to come back to life again, as we all must do at times.
2. What to do if your friend asks for advice
This situation can be particularly challenging.
If your friend asks for advice, it can be tempting to give it because they asked for it, right?
It’s a trap, and one you’re not likely to get out of quickly.
So much of depression is a focus on the past, on the negative, and on what won’t work.
What I recommend, based on my own experience and what I’ve seen from others, is to offer support backed up by mutual action.
To get out of the ruts of a negative way of being requires doing something new.
See if you can back up your response with a new action for you and your friend.
If you can help them take a new approach, you will help them rewire their brain for a new way of thinking and doing.
3. The one exception
Of course, there are always exceptions, and I want to review the biggest one with you.
Symptoms of depression run the gamut from the tedious and annoying to the critically serious.
If your friend or family member shares suicidal thoughts–especially if there is a specific plan in place to take their life–then you must act.
Here are a few risks of suicide to look out for:
1. A suicide plan, especially one that has specific detail to it.
2. Frequent comments about suicide, even if they are general in nature.
3. Suddenly giving away all possessions. This could mean that they’ve recently decided they want to end their life.
If you notice anything like this, it is more than OK to talk about it.
Ask: Are you thinking about killing yourself?
Have you ever thought about killing yourself?
It won’t give people ideas.
That is absolutely false and has no evidence to support it.
If they say yes to your questions, you need to help them get to the emergency room for an evaluation.
This is the major exception when it comes to giving advice.
Living with depression is awful.
No one should ever have to deal with it.
But it’s a reality we need to talk about.
If your friend or family member has depression, remember this: they also have you.
They have a caring friend that knows that one of the best things he or she can do to support another person is to take the time to support their own mental health.
You have the tools, and now you just need to apply them.
You can be there for your loved ones AND yourself.