Aparna, June 22, 2019

If you don’t know how to help someone with a mental illness, ask them. Even a “You okay?” means a lot.

It’s hard to tell if a person is depressed unless they break down in front of you or manage to tell you themselves. Depression doesn’t leave scars, not always. And it’s hard to say how bad it is if you can’t see the wound.

If you know someone who’s going through a difficult time, if you have even the slightest doubt, reach out.

Even if you think it wouldn’t help, do it. Even if you think bringing it up could make it worse, or that it wouldn’t make a difference at all, even if it makes you uncomfortable, do it.

They don’t need much from you.

First, understand that their state of mind, the place they’re in, is on a different dimension. Depression is not just an extreme version of the sadness that you know, it’s sadness on a whole other dimension, one that is comparable and yet is entirely different, so different you can’t even begin to imagine it.

So, let me tell you what you can’t see. You can’t see they’re numb inside when they laugh at your jokes, that they haven’t eaten in three days, that they wish they won’t wake up when they go to bed every night.

It is important that you do see it, that you at least show that you want to. Because that person needs you. They need someone, anyone, to tell them it’ll get better. They might get through it alone, they’re strong, no doubt. They’ll talk themselves out of harming themselves, cry themselves to sleep, drag themselves to get help, and convince themselves to keep going another day. And they just might. But maybe they won’t. The illness bends their mind, tells them to stop fighting, and convinces them there’s nothing left to fight for.

In those times, they will need you to say that it’s all a lie. That they deserve to see the other side of the darkness, and that you will sit by them till they no longer need to fight. That the little hope they have is real. That their dark thoughts are nothing more than chemical imbalances – it’s not them, just a temporary tarp covering their light, that a beautiful life is waiting for them at the other end, waiting for them to get through some more time. That it’ll be worth it. Say it over and over again. Till they believe it. And then say it again.

If you don’t know what to do, ask them. Even a “You okay?” means a lot.

It could make me take a break from crying into a pillow to watch Netflix for a bit. It could slow down an escalating bad day, make me feel just a little less lost, enough to get through the rest of the day. Ask them if they ate anything all day. You don’t need to come up with some speech. You don’t need to say anything at all – sit next to them. Hold their hand while they try not to break down.

And for those who are going through any version of a difficult time right now, or ever have, know that you deserve such support, and you might already have it. You might even have the best possible people in your life and still not have quite the support you need. That’s perfectly normal. It’s not that you don’t deserve it, or they don’t care enough, they just don’t really know what you need. It’s sad and unfair, I know. But that’s okay. Take all the help you can get. Or ask for it. I swear they’ll want to.

You’re capable of getting through this. But you don’t have to do it alone.

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