What To Say To A Friend You Think Might Be Depressed
It could make all the difference.
Be supportive where you can. Photo: Unsplash
Depression is often a “buy one, get one free” type of disorder with debilitating impacts in many aspects of a person's life. It can totally shatter a person's job, education, sleep, appetite, relationship and sense of self, leaving them feeling down, flat and worthless.
And while we have come a long way in how we deal with mental health, we still have a long way to go. In Australia, it's estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression.
Although if you suspect someone you know might be suffering from depression, there are steps you can take to help. Lysn psychologist Noosha Mehmanli Anzab explains what to do if you suspect someone you know might be suffering:
Talk to them
This is definitely not as simple as it sounds. Talking to someone about depression is not easy (for anyone involved) and can be really tricky to navigate, even for the most articulate and vocal person.
It’s particularly difficult to know the right things to say and when to say them. Nevertheless, it is achievable. How? Start by choosing a time when you are both calm, in a private area and not distracted. Try starting with “I’ve noticed you have been a little flat lately, and wanted to check in to see how you are going”. Keep in mind that the aim is to choose a gentle approach in conversation which starts broad and gradually narrows down to the depression or depressive symptoms, and don’t forget, slow and steady wins the race. Be equally mindful of letting the person you are speaking to take the lead in how much they are able to discuss and don’t forget to actively listen. There are resources online that are available for people wanting to talk to someone about mental health issues or suicide. If you are worried about someone and want to know what to say, check out the website, Conversations Matter.
Cliches aren't so supportive. Photo: Unsplash
Consider your words
Our language can be so moving – it can really empower or discourage us, particularly when talking about subjects which are a little heavier than usual. When offering verbal and emotional support to someone who is suffering, be careful about what words, phrases and the tone you use. Avoid using sentences that have a lot of “yous” in them such as “you should just snap out of it”. These statements can come across as blaming and really isolate someone who is suffering. Instead opt for phrases like “I am here to support and encourage and am wondering what I can do to help". Keep your tone calm, low and don’t rush the conversation so as to allow silence and processing time.
To people suffering from depression, support can be overwhelmingly nice and doesn’t necessarily have to be emotional. Although emotional support is a main component, practical support is equally welcoming. Be sure to let the person know that you are there, and you are there to help. “Help” could be as simple as offering to make some meals, run some errands or make up the bed.
For someone battling depression, it’s the simple things that require the biggest effort. Emotionally, let them know you are available, and willing to offer a listening ear when they need someone to talk to. Having strong support networks can be instrumental in helping someone through any emotional issues. Knowing they have someone to turn to if they feel like they can no longer cope, having someone listen to them without judgement and backlash, or just having company that is safe and warm can go a long way.
Friends are pretty great. Photo: iStock
Look after yourself
While it’s a fantastic thing to be supportive of someone who is suffering, it is equally important to look after yourself. Emotional support can be taxing if you don’t have the right amount of self-care in place. Having boundaries in how much support you are providing versus your capacity to support is really important and an absolute necessity. Taking care if your mental wellbeing and psychologically distancing yourself so you don’t become absorbed by someone else’s mental health issues is crucial in avoiding burnout.
In the same way that we exercise empathy when supporting someone through depression, it is important we are empathic to ourselves too. Remember your limitations and don’t try to fix or take everything on yourself. Being in a balanced frame of mind will allow you to be a pillar of strength and someone to lean on for the person suffering and you can’t achieve that when you are gradually becoming stressed, anxious or overwhelmed in helping someone else overcome a mental health issue. The mind-body connection is real so make sure you are well rested, engage in normal amounts of exercise and nourish your body throughout the process.
Suggest avenues for help
When someone is suffering emotionally, it can sometimes be hard for them to see that there is help available. Their problems might feel overwhelming, as though there is no way out, they may not have any will power or energy left to cope and things might generally seem “foggy”.
However, there are many services available in Australia for people suffering depression or other forms of mental illness. Services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue all provide adequate support by way of free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts. Services like Lysnalso provide access to psychologists via phone or video chat which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. These services can be instrumental in providing the support and strategy needed to manage the symptoms of depression.
Respond to emergencies
Knowing how to respond to emergencies is particularly important when dealing with mental health. If you suspect someone is not doing well, might be at risk of hurting themselves or at risk of causing harm to others then it is time to seek help immediately. Call 000 for emergency situations and always err on the side of caution (that is, it is better to be safe than sorry). If you sense that something is seriously wrong, take the precaution and call 000 or present at your local hospital’s emergency department.