5 Things a Depressed Person Wants You to Know
If you do not struggle with depression yourself, you almost certainly love someone who does. Talking with depressed people can be tricky. Sometimes we say things to help that only serve to make our friend feel worse. After making that mistake a few times, we are tempted to draw away and not make the same mistake over. Drawing away makes matters worse, because it confirms his suspicions that you do not really want to be around him.
To help you navigate that confusion, I asked a friend who struggles with depression to help me compile this list. So please, continue to reach out but do so with these things in mind.
1. Be prepared to listen openly without judgment
Depressed people can take things very personally and be sensitive. Be very careful not to dismiss us or our feelings (don’t smile, take depression seriously!).
Don’t say "I know how you feel". It is belittling, and implies that since you are not depressed you are stronger than me. Other statements to avoid:
“Cheer up it's not that bad it’ll be ok.”
“That’s a normal situation.” (Being told it's normal is horrifying)
“Work through it, get a hobby.” We are not bored children.
“Chamomile tea and/or exercise will help.” (It might but being told that feels dismissive). Instead say “let’s go get some tea” or “I’m going for a walk/jog/run come with me.”
2. Honor the person’s right to feel their emotions whatever they are.
Be supportive and affirming, continually let him know that you will be there for him.
Ask safety related questions (don’t be shocked by suicidal thoughts because depressed people think about suicide a lot. Suicide is like an escape hatch underwater.)
Ask them what you can do to help (company 24 hrs is never bad). Always answer your phone!) Telling them they can come over anytime and meaning it is helpful.
3. Focused advice and criticism can be helpful. (Avoid generalities)
This is dangerous but can be very helpful. Once you have established a trusting relationship, carefully offer to help. If something is stressing me out finding an answer or solution is like a pressure relief valve. For example I’ll roll something over and over in my mind when I am depressed. If someone comes along and says “look here is what you do and how you do it”, its like a fog lifting and I can move on.
A friend told me once I go down mental rabbit holes. I never realized it until then but now I notice when I do it, and can shift from looking for a ridiculous answer to just stopping.
This advice is very difficult but it’s a more focused solution. You are not curing the depression, but you are helping with the things that make depression worse.
4. We do not like some of the places you go for fun.
Thank you for wanting to take us out and cheer us up. But when we are feeling depressed we get nervous and anxious. Arcades, bowling alleys, or places with a lot of stimulation overwhelm us. We need consistency and calm to sort things out.
So please avoid loud intermittent noises and bright flashing lights (camera flashes are the worst)
Instead offer to do something quiet. Say “let’s go for a ride.” I used to drive around for hours or walk up and down aisles in grocery stores. (Depressed people actually like company when the company isn’t trying to cheer them up).
If you invite a friend going through depression to coffee or lunch, sit where they won’t need to worry about others seeing their tears.
Check in from time to time (texts or emails are great) – depression tricks you into thinking that no one cares. A simple “How are you?” or “I’m thinking of you/praying for you” reminds them that you do. It also gives them permission to share without worrying that they’re being a burden. Please don’t feel like you have to have all the answers! God uses friends who are willing to just sit with you in the pain to bring healing.
5. We like Community Groups, but not Discussion Groups.
Sometimes having an excuse to get out of the house and away from everything that’s familiar can be a great relief.
Social situations can be difficult like bible studies or having prescribed talk time make me uncomfortable, but knowing I’m around people that aren’t there for a specific reason is relaxing.
Non-depressed people seem to feel guilty for not helping people. Therefore, they turn community groups into bible studies because they think that is more helpful and inviting. (It is not because depressed people never feel like they’re being listened to except for when its one on one.)
Personally inviting someone to a community group is better than saying “go here if you want” or “let us find you a group”. Once there, allow your friends to pair off if they want to or just allow them to sit quietly.
Remember, it is always better to do something rather than nothing. Over the years I have accidentally offended many depressed people. I have said the wrong things, and sent the wrong messages. But somehow, the message "I love you and want to help" seems to get through.