What to say to your mate when he has depression
Mental health initiatives have been doing wonders to break down the stigma surrounding one of Australia’s biggest killers. Campaigns such as the upcoming RUOK Day have brought the conversation into the mainstream, and have effectively challenged the notion of traditional masculinity to create a space of support and comfort for men living with anxiety and depression.
And while there is still a long route towards total acceptance, men are becoming increasingly aware of methods of coping and supportive resources available.
However whilst self-care advice is abundant, how is one to act and support if a mate or loved one is exhibiting symptoms of poor mental health? According to Beyondblue, it's estimated that 45 per cent of people in Australia will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, with one million Australian adults currently living with depression and two million battling anxiety. By the sheer volume of these statistics, it’s more than likely that if you’re not experiencing poor mental health yourself, someone close you is.
Men’s Health spoke to Lysn Psychologist Elyse McNeil to get expert backed tips on the right things to say (and what NOT to say) when to a mate who comes to you for support.
What should you say to your mate if he’s dealing with depression
Remind your mate that is ok to feel that way and that they are not alone. There are many avenues for support, with people available that they can talk to, including yourself as a friend. Offer up your support, however be mindful that they might not feel comfortable talking to you (and that’s ok). Let them know that you are there for them if ever they want to just have a chat or spend time together. If you are worried about saying the right thing or knowing what to say, check out the website Conversations Matter. Also let them know that it’s ok to seek out professional help, just like visiting a doctor if you’re sick.
Things NOT to say
Don't say 'you'll be right' or 'surely it isn't that bad', or anything else that minimises how much they are hurting. Avoid using phrases that have a lot of “you” in them such as “you should just get over it” (which is definitely something NOT to say). Don't talk about yourself or someone else you know with depression - this is about your friend, not you. Use phrases like “I am here to support you no matter what, is there anything I can do to help?”.
Keep your tone relaxed and don’t rush, allow breaks and silence in the conversation which can help our minds process. Definitely avoid any phrases which might make them feel ashamed or embarrassed – stick to words of encouragement and support. Avoid telling them what to do or how to solve the problem - although your urge will be to try and fix it and therefore help your mate, what they need is to know is that you understand and that you care, listening closely and attentively is the key way to do this. If you aren't sure what to say, let your friend know this, and ensure that you help them find someone they can talk to.
How should you act, and should you inform anyone once you know about your mates’ health?
Not everything has to change - they will likely still want to spend time with you, without depression having to be the focus. Talk to your mate about what they need and then if possible, figure out together who needs to know. Start with a loved one or a trusted health practitioner, and make sure you let your friend know if you've had to tell anyone. If you feel affected by your friends' depression, speak to a close person about your experience and seek help yourself too.
How much should you take on yourself?
Mental health issues can unfortunately sometimes seem to be considered ‘contagious’; however feeling compassion for someone and 'catching' depression are very different. It is normal to feel sad for your friend, or feel overwhelmed and unsure how to help them. Utilise your own support system to draw on and remember that your mate doesn't need you to fix them, but to support them. Listen and support, also but encourage professional help for dealing with the depression.
What actions should you take if your friend tells you he’s struggling?
Keep talking to them and don’t let them suffer in silence or feel alone. These can be difficult conversations to have, however, they are some of the most important. Besides emotional support, offer up some practical support. This can be as simple as bringing them over dinner or helping fixing something in their household – these things all send subtle messages that you are there for them. Also provide some guidance around the resources available to get professional help, and even offer to attend with them the first time if they are hesitant.
Services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline all provide professional support by way of free over-the-phone counselling. Lysn also provides access to psychologists over the phone or video chat which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. Services like this are instrumental in providing support and strategy needed to manage symptoms of depression.