Recently, a close family friend called to ask my advice about a situation.
“My friend is really depressed…” she began. After listening to her bewilderment and frustration about how to best help her friend, who did, indeed, sound very depressed, I shared some of my thoughts.
Being in relationship with someone who suffers from depression can be a difficult road. It’s hard to know whether to broach the subject, and what exactly to say if you do.
If you love someone who is depressed, the following may help you traverse this delicate landscape:
Be open and honest about your concern
Use I-statements (“I feel concerned that you’ve missed 10 days of work in the past 3 weeks”) to convey your feelings.
Beginning a sentence with “you” (You are/do/were…) puts the hearer on the defensive. On the other hand, when we use I-statements to convey our message, we take responsibility for our own feelings, and we prevent the hearer from feeling the need to defend themselves. (This tactic works for all types of communication, now that I think of it!).
Don’t pretend that everything is ok. Your friend may work hard to hide his depression from you. Be willing to say, “I know things aren’t okay for you right now.”
Let your friend know that you are there to help however you can (and be ready for them to turn you down). Be gently persistent. Check in with him/her, even if s/he doesn’t answer or respond.
Don’t “should” on your friend
I always say that no one likes being “should” on, and telling a depressed person (or pretty much ANY person, for that matter) what they “should” do or feel is a sure way to shut down communication. And healthy communication is key in these situations.
Be ready to feel frustrated. Yes, frustrated. It can feel very frustrating to love a depressed person. However, conveying this frustration to your loved one is likely to shut down the lines of communication, not open them up to further discussion. Remember, your friend/family member may feel frustrated, too. A significant feature of depression is feeling sad for no reason, so it can be incredibly frustrating to feel this way.
Recognize your limits
As much as you would like your friend/family member to get help, get out of bed, go to the doctor for a medication evaluation, etc., you must realize that theirs is not your life to live. You can encourage and support, but ultimately it is up to your friend to get help, to make healthy choices for him/herself. Or not.
And that “or not” can be a tough pill to swallow for those of us who love someone debilitated by depression.
And most importantly…be HOPEFUL
Remember, your depressed friend feels hopeless. And it’s infinitely more helpful to let your friend know that you will hold hope for her until she can again, than arguing with her about why she “should” feel hopeful right now. Letting your friend know you are hopeful can be the lifeline she needs to get through this tough time.
You won’t bully or cajole or guilt your friend or family member into not being depressed.
Depression is NOT a choice. It’s a condition. BUT, there are steps you can take to support this person you love while they cope with depression.