How to help a friend with depression

This is a paper I wrote for an assignment for school. I thought I’d share it with you guys.

I was diagnosed with depression about five years ago. I take care of myself, take medication, see a counsellor weekly and set short-term and long-term goals for myself. With this, I am able to stay in control of my depression.

However, my depression can still take a turn for the worse. I have periods where I feel so depressed that I lose all my motivation to do anything and it is nearly impossible to get me to smile. During these times, I tend to rely on my friends – friends who don’t struggle with the same disorder. No one will fully completely understand depression unless they suffer from it themselves.

If you try to help a friend with depression, you must be aware what you are doing and their responses. Is what you’re doing actually helping?

If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’, continue reading this article. You’re about to get an exclusive look of what goes on inside a brain of someone with depression.

  1. Don’t tell us to get over it or cheer up because we can’t.

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain. While there may be things that help make us happy, we can’t simply cheer up. It’s nearly impossible; we can’t control it.

Many researchers believe that an imbalance of serotonin can be the cause of depression. This is not proven because there is no way to measure the influence serotonin has on our brains. However, the medication that is used to help balance our serotonin levels, is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant.

“Depression is not their fault; it could be situational or chemical,” said Carey Bridges, Child and Youth Worker at St. Francis Catholic Secondary School. “Would you ask someone with a broken leg to suck it up and walk it off? No, so don’t tell someone with depression to suck it up or cheer up.”

Telling someone to cheer up or you’ll leave them won’t work either. It won’t go your way. The depression will stay and you’ll have to be the one to make the choice to stay or to go.

“Don’t tell them to snap out of it or make threats if they don’t. It can’t be done,” said Nicole Sambrooks, who has been struggling with depression her whole life.

  1. Educate yourself on the disorder.

“If you aren’t familiar with mental health or depression then as a friend you could research it and be open to talk about it,” said Bridges.

There are lots of resources online about mental health issues and depression. Also, ask your friend for information and clarification about their depression. Everyone is different. Everyone has different symptoms and deals with them differently. In my personal opinion, I love when people ask because it shows they care and actually want to help. It also puts all the assumptions about our depression behind.

  1. Allow them to have a down day.

“Allow for down days and take advantage of the good,” said Bridges.

Sometimes we need to have down days where we’re completely shut down, cry, stay inside, and just do nothing but be sad. Let us have these days and be there for us. Don’t lecture us about being negative or say that it depresses you. Just allow it. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day. From my experience, I need to have those down days in order to have good days.

  1. Ask us how we’re doing, but don’t force us to talk about it if we don’t want to.

Sometimes we don’t want to talk. Don’t be offended by this or get frustrated. It’s nothing against you. Sometimes there’s nothing to talk about and we’re just simply depressed. Sometimes there’s so much wrong that we are unable to form words, and even thoughts. Sometimes we just simply don’t want to talk. We like when people ask how we are; it shows you care. But don’t force us to talk about it if we don’t want to.

  1. Find out what makes us happy, or even just a smile and do it for us.

The thing that makes us happy can simply be spending time with us or a hug. Buy us our favourite chocolate or watch our favourite movie with us. Take us to a comedy show or a concert. Figure out what makes us happy, whatever it is, and do it for us unexpectedly once in a while. Sometimes the littlest things can help a lot.

  1. Make sure to tell us you care about us and that you believe in us.

It’s nice to know someone believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. It’s nice to have someone there rooting for us to succeed and encouraging us not to give up.

“Just having someone there that cares about you can make all the difference,” said Sambrooks.

  1. Don’t call us lazy if we don’t want to do our daily tasks.

“Never talk about the mess that may be in their rooms or the laundry that could be on the floor,” said Taylor Brown, who struggles with depression..

It’s hard enough to get out of bed sometimes. It takes us much more effort than the average person to do anything. We wish we had the energy to easily do our daily tasks, but our body just shuts down on us.

“Sometimes I can’t even get out of bed because I have no energy. Despite me trying, I just can’t do it. I need to rest,” said Sambrooks.

Instead, offer to help us with our daily tasks and activities.

“I find when people helped me with things I just couldn’t do, without forcing me to snap out of it, always helped,” said Jade Mckee, who also struggles with depression.

  1. Don’t offer advice on how to get better. Instead, offer us advice about things we can change.

“Don’t offer advice on how to get better because everybody is different,” said Sambrooks. “Everyone deals with their depression in their own unique way and they need to be able to work through it on their own time.”

Depression can’t be “fixed”. Depression will stay with us until the day we die. No advice is going to cure the imbalance in our brains. However, you can offer advice on the struggles we face in our day-to-day lives, be it relationships, family or school issues because those are the things we can change. Maybe when those issues are resolved, we will feel a bit better, but the disorder will still be there no matter what people say.

  1. NEVER ignore a red flag or mention of suicide.

Suicidal thoughts have to be taken seriously. If they confide in you, it means they trust you with their life, literally. Don’t let them down.

“Make sure they’re alright, and always be ready to call 911 if you think the person is at risk to themselves,” said Brown.

  1. Don’t try to be a superhero and solve all our problems.

We appreciate that you care (although sometimes it might not seem like it), but if you are trying to take care of us all the time, you’ll most likely get overwhelmed. You need to take care of yourself first. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re getting overwhelmed; we understand what that’s like. If you get too overwhelmed, conflicts are likely to arise and friendships will be at risk.

Stay strong lovelies <3

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