Depression doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There are signs, tells, disclosures, and indicators that something is not right. It is your job as a loved one, a friend, a colleague, a person to offer support, encouragement, and resources to those affected with this deadly disease. Be an ally and let them know they’re not alone.
Here are six ways to be an ally to someone suffering from depression:
It’s not about you. Depressed people want to be heard so they can be helped. Listen to what they have to say in a compassionate and understanding way. Many feel that no one cares about them or their problems, so be that person they trust and who want to share their struggles and feelings with. If you don’t listen and process what they’re saying, you’re going to gloss over and ignore important, potentially life-saving, information that will give you a better sense of their state of mind and current life stressors. They want to be helped, and they’re feeding you the clues you’ll need to get them in front of the right people, so all you have to do is listen.
2. Encourage them to Seek Professional Help
Displaying compassion and understanding to those suffering from depression while talking with them about their problems is not a substitute for seeking professional help. They most likely will feel better in the short-term, but when you’re not around, and they find themselves in the exact position as before, they’re likely to revert to that depressed and anxious state. There needs to be a long-term game-plan, and this can only come from a certified mental health professional.
3. Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice
Even if your motives are pure, giving unsolicited advice to depressed people sends the wrong message that’s almost always perceived as negative. Being told such things as “forget about it and move on with your life,” “happiness is a choice,” or “just do something you enjoy,” while well-meaning, is dismissive, minimizes their pain, and puts the blame on the individual rather than the condition that’s out of their control. They’re based on assumptions and our assessment of a situation, and no person—let alone depressed people—want to be psychoanalyzed by someone who lacks the appropriate credentials and who believe an inspiring pep talk or quick fix will snap them out of their depression.
4. Use Non-Judgemental Language
The main reason why depressed people hide their depression from friends and family is because they don’t want to be judged. Hearing things like, “I know how you feel” and “Some people have it worse,” does nothing to help the situation, just make the person more likely to shut down. We have no idea what someone else is thinking or what they’re going through, so how arrogant and offensive would it be to dismiss what they’re going through as something that isn’t a big deal? Be understanding and empathetic, not brash, self-serving, or judgemental.
5. Be Inclusive and Consistent
Invite them to outings, functions, or events. It is common for depressed people to feel alone and like they don’t matter to others. Let them know this is not true by making time for them and invite them to join you or your friends the next time you go out. Since many depressed people also suffer from social/general anxiety, they may cancel on you or appear standoffish. Don’t take this as a personal attack on your character, but understand that being around other people may be too much for some. Consider doing something just the two of you, but most importantly, continue to invite them to outings. Even if they don’t end up going, just knowing that someone cares and wants to hang out with them is hugely satisfying.
6. Educate Yourself
If you don’t have a strong understanding of depression and what it consists of, you’re unlikely to be of much value to those afflicted. Most people who lack an adequate understanding of depression will be more inclined to paint all persons with a mental illness with the same broad brush. Mental illness comes in many forms, each requiring different needs, attention, intervention, and response. Being an ally for an individual with depression involves educating yourself on depression so that you have the necessary information to intervene when appropriate.
This by no means is an all-inclusive list. Any action or behavior that consoles, encourage, or support those suffering from depression show that you stand with them and are in the fight together. However, based on my research, education, and experience, these six pieces of advice gives you a solid understanding from which to work and solidifies your commitment and role in caring for depressed people.
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