So I’ve been through quite a few periods of deep depression and as hard as it is to help myself, it is also difficult for the people around me to know what to do to help most effectively. Sometimes what I need for support varies. I may find I just need to txt someone while other days I may need someone to come over and hug me while I fall apart. Support isn’t just about keeping someone’s head above water but helping them learn to swim.
Encouragement is very important. When people are depressed it is normal for them to feel defeated and like there is no point in trying anything because they are so certain they will fail. Reminding them of their accomplishments no matter how small and rooting them on along the way will help. The next time their internal voice argues about failure, they may be able to fight it back with your words and in time will begin to believe in themselves.
Don’t think “What would I do if I was in that situation”. If you are not depressed or have never experienced it, it is not helpful to think that way. You may think that getting into the shower isn’t difficult at all and if you were dirty you would just get in and wash up but for someone with depression it can be difficult to think about getting up, turning on the water, getting in, washing their hair, and every tiny step and discomfort along the way. Tasks can be like salt in a wound. Doing nothing already hurts and to do nearly anything else hurts more. The danger of this kind of pain in people with depression is that sometimes the pain is so overwhelming they may consider ending their life.
Reassure them of your love, friendship and support. People struggling with depression have a skewed view of the world. This can mean they now believe they are unlovable or unwanted. As to be expected they may feel alone in their struggle. It makes a difference to hold someone’s hand and tell them you are by their side through difficult times.
Give them a break. Considering that depression makes small tasks difficult, you can imagine how those with many responsibilities can become burnt out fast. If you are able to, try helping them take a moment away from their stress.
Don’t let them isolate. Isolation means the loudest voice that person hears is their internal one. In general that’s not the best idea for someone who is depressed. Getting them to keep in touch regularly with supportive people and getting out of the house even when they don’t really want to can be helpful. The more people in their support system taking an active part the better.
Don’t invalidate their feelings. It is easy to assume that if you can prove a thought is irrational than you can get rid of it. This is unfortunately not the case. Telling someone with depression that they are making a mountain out of a molehill or that there is nothing to be sad about does not make them suddenly cheerful.
Check Ins should be done regularly if they are not coping well. If you are unsure if they are safe by themselves for 24 hours then you should consider having them admitted to the hospital for evaluation. You don’t have to have an entire conversation with them every hour but the occasional “hey, how’s it going?” Can suffice.
Let them vent and don’t take anything personally. Depression weighs a lot and sometimes you just can’t hold it anymore. The illogical thoughts that build up need to be let out somehow. Being the friend they can go to when they need an ear is a helpful position to take. They may say things you never thought they’d say or that are out of character for them. They may be teary and dismiss positive points you present regardless of their validity.
Watch out for warning signs. Part of forming a strong support system is to be aware enough of the person’s personality to see when they just need a hug or when it’s time to call someone. There are some things you can look out for that ring true more often than not as warning signs. Selling keepsake items, stopping medications without doctor approval, taking unnecessary risks or any major life changes that you think may be destructive to their psyche.
Kick its ass early. Seeing depression before it gets bad can be a challenge as it can advance slowly in both frequency and strength of symptoms. Learning what someone’s warning signs are is a big part of being able to do this.
When nothing is working. At this stage in the game, the only thing you need to worry about is whether or not you feel that they are a danger to themselves or others. If you have no concerns in that respect than just keep doing what you’ve been doing. You have to make sure that the person you are supporting doesn’t cause you to lose hope. It isn’t easy to listen to the terrible things that sometimes are said or see them suffer but it won’t be forever. They will have good days again.