September 1, 2014

What Your Depressed Friends Need & What They Don’t. ~ Lilian Surgeson

depression and friends

*Editor’s Note: Elephant is a diverse community. We are reader-created. Many blogs here are experience and not fact or The One Right Point of View. 

This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.

There’s been a lot of talk on social media about depression, ever since Robin Williams succumbed to his.

Believe me, those of us with depression are grateful that people are starting to talk about it.

However, most of us are also fighting the urge to post, Will you please shut up? It’s bad enough having the depression without you discussing it!

We’re battling this urge because we know that people need to understand, but reading about a guy you really liked who just lost his fight with himself is, for a depressive, a whole world of bad—beyond the fact that he won’t be making any more films.

Most of us are thinking, If he’s done it, what’s to stop me?

I thought it was time that someone gave a few tips to people who are trying to help. Having said that, it’s worth remembering that all depressives need different things.

What people with depression don’t need: sympathy.

We know how crappy it is to be depressed. Believe me, our heads are telling us enough. We don’t need others to add to that. Empathy is fine, but gushing sympathy will (in most cases) just make things worse.

What people with depression do need: patience.

We know we are being irrational, or maybe we don’t. Our heads are lying to us. Be patient, and I mean really patient. We all fear that our friends will get bored and leave. Sometimes there’s a reason we’re crying, sometimes there’s not. We know it’s infuriating; it’s infuriating for us too. We wouldn’t do it if we could help it, believe me.

Be patient with the things that we do to cope, like cancelling social plans, reading when there are people around, not cleaning the house ( or ourselves), and all the other things we just can’t manage. We’re busy fighting an exhausting war in our own head.

What people with depression don’t need: talking.

Believe it or not, we are not depressed because we can’t handle life. Many of us manage to have full time jobs and family lives. We don’t need advice, unless we ask for it. We don’t need theories about exercise or healthy eating. We may well need counselling, but that’s our decision. We certainly don’t need others gossiping about us. And we don’t need “cheering up” any more than somebody with a migraine needs “cheering up.”

What people with depression do need: listening.

Listen to the outpouring. And don’t contradict it, there’s very little point. Wait for the end of the outburst before speaking. Listen to the unspoken, we are trying to communicate through tone or body language that something is wrong, without negatively impacting others’ lives. Listen to what we think might help. We know how we feel. No one else does.

And if you ever tell someone they can call at any time, you’d better mean it. A lot of depressed people suffer more at night, and you may be the only person who they trust at three in the morning. If a friend sounds even slightly put out, it might be enough to trigger a depressive into crisis.

What people with depression don’t need: a label.

None of us want to be the “depressed” friend any more than the “fat” friend or “gay” friend. We want to be your friend. The depression should not define us.

What people with depression do need: support.

It’s like any medical condition in this respect. Allow for things that we might need. I like to be warned about crowds, and having visitors in the house. Sudden changes to social plans upset me. Some people can’t deal with loud or persistent noises. Look out for unconsciously harmful behavior, like not eating, and subtly try to help. My girlfriend’s first response to my looking miserable is to ask if I’ve eaten. If you live with us, check that we’ve taken our medication, even if we get cross, and if you think we need to go the doctor, make us. Go with us if you have to.

What people with depression don’t need: others bringing it up.

Don’t bring up our depression in conversation, even to ask if we’re feeling better. In that sense it’s not like asking after a physical health problem. We may be having a good patch and don’t want to think about it. Don’t joke about it unless we do, and don’t start the joke on any given day. You may well think you’re being funny, but what can be amusing for us one day can translate as I’m a totally useless waste of space the next.

What people with depression need: to be able to mention it.

It’s in my nature to joke about things, so being able to joke about my depression really helps. Being able to say I’m having a sad day, and having that be no more serious than saying I’ve got a headache, means the world to me. It means I can talk about something that is a big part of my life, without worrying that people are looking at me funny. In fact, I even named mine, so that I, and others, could talk about it as something separate from the “real me.”

The most important thing that we need from others is the realization and acknowledgment that we are people who have this illness. We are not mutants, aliens or contagious. We’re your friends, we put up with your weird sense of humor, your boring girlfriend and your constant complaints about your computer. You can put up with this, and maybe even help us through it.

Or at least we hope you can.





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  Photo: via Flickr

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