It took me a while to tell all my friends about my depression. It wasn’t something I really wanted to talk about at first. It was only when I started to open up about it that I realised how much talking helped.
My friends just accepted it, and without making a big deal about it they let me know they were looking out for me. I began to find out about other people’s experiences, which helped too.
Here are six ways you can support a friend who’s going through depression, based on what I’ve valued most.
- Treat them as normal. Don’t be wary of them, don’t fuss over them, don’t pity them, don’t pussyfoot around them. Depression is an alienating experience, and a little normality in an alien world can be very welcome. Your friend is still the same person, so you should be the same with them
- Keep inviting them to things. Don’t leave them out because you think they won’t feel up to it. They might not, and that’s fine, but I was always very grateful for friends who remembered me and tried to include me, no matter how many times I turned down their offers. Just remember to reply to your friend’s messages. I felt paranoid with my depression and would worry if someone didn’t reply. I just assumed they were annoyed with me. On the times I did say yes to an invitation, it was good to get out and have a much-needed laugh or a change of scene. And following on from that…
- Help your friend get out of the house. Daytime outings – even a simple walk – might be better than evenings. I struggled to sleep, so in the mornings I was like a zombie and by the evening I was shattered, so afternoons were the best time to get out. I was also low on confidence, and the idea of going out somewhere busy often felt overwhelming, so somewhere quiet in the open air suited me best.
- Ask them how they are, and listen. It can be a call, a text, a message on Facebook, whatever works best, but keep in touch. Don’t be scared to talk – it’s important. It doesn’t have to be a deep, soul-searching, psychologically probing conversation. On the whole, that would just be weird and hard work for both of you. Just a simple “How are you doing?” is just right.
- Don’t try to cure them. A bag of sweets, some daft jokes or a trip out somewhere is much better than a heavy-handed dose of amateur therapy, or badly judged motivational pep talks. Saying ‘Could be worse’, ‘Man up’ or ‘Snap out of it’ will do far more harm than good, so just don’t. Ever. If you’re not sure how you can help, just ask them.
- Be patient. Depression can be a stubborn companion and recovery can take many months. You might see no improvement for a long time. It affects people in lots of different ways – for example memory loss, so don’t hold it against them if they forget something.