Man is it easy to say the wrong thing. Worse, it’s even easier to stay quiet because we’re afraid to say the wrong thing. When trying to support someone who’s depressed, it’s important to be honest – to admit that you don’t have the answers and just be there for them.
Silence is shitty. When you’re silent there’s nothing to counter her inner mean voice. When you’re silent she’s on her own. Here are some tips to get you talking.
I’m rooting for you. Fiercely. “I can’t solve this, but I’m rooting for you.” “I don’t know why you’re hurting, but I’m rooting for you.” “I wish I could do more, and I’m rooting for you.” People with depression are working hard. They need cheerleaders, they need support, they need to know that they’re not alone out there. They need to be acknowledged and cherished. They need to know you’re rooting for them.
You’re pretty. Just because she can’t take complements doesn’t mean they don’t eventually sink in. Tell her you’ve always admired her brain, her spunk, the color of her eyes. Tell her you love the way she stands. Fuck it – tell her she’s got amazing boobs. Notice good things about her and tell her.
You’re being very strong. It takes a lot of inner strength to battle depression. What can look like weakness to the rest of the world – and to the depressive herself – is actually a strong resolve to survive, to thrive. Instead of dwelling on the things that are holding her back, notice the strength she’s showing by even trying, by getting through yet another day. Remember that she’s being strong and tell her.
I don’t understand. Admit that you don’t know what she’s going through. Admit that you’re not in control and neither is she. Just admit that, together, you’re out of your depths. Understanding is not a prerequisite to helping. Be truthful.
I love you. Fiercely. Be upfront about your feelings. She feels unlovable, unreachable. Let her know that you’re still there, and that you’re not going anywhere. When she sees little or no worth in herself, knowing that others love her – that others find her worthwhile – can be lifesaving. Let her know.
As a fan of enthusiastic consent in the most general terms, I like to see treatment as an option. In my experience, “shoulds” are less helpful to depressed people than most folks think. Treatment for depression, or the blues, anxiety, paranoia, etc. is something we can try if we want, when we want, and how we want.
I consider treatment to be all deliberate activities that you believe help you feel better. There is no one type of treatment that we should all use. I like to think instead of a menu, full of hope, help, and liverwurst.
Unfortunately not all treatments are equally accessible. The good news for us is that some of the most accessible forms are also the most robust and the have the longest-lasting positive effects.
Here’s an incomplete menu of options. Browse, nibble, make a whole meal. I’ll add more links and references as time allows.
Support Groups for depression are free and morecommon than you might think. Many people with good insurance choose support groups over one-on-one therapy because they find that community heals. Many groups have separate sessions for friends and family. There’s such a thing as a bad facilitator, so you may need to shop around.
Meditation may be the best treatment for depression that humans have found so far. Guided meditation can be much more approachable for the severely depressed (Youtube has videos as short as one minute). I’ll be posting some reviews of guided meditations soon.
One-on-one therapy is often considered to be the Gold Standard of treatment for depression, and it can be immensely helpful for short term relief and long term recovery. There are a million different kinds, but the most important thing may be a good personal fit with the person in that chair every week. If you’re considering therapy but loathing something about it (like having to gush out your life story to someone all at once) I encourage you to say so at your first meeting or even on the phone before you meet. If the therapist’s response doesn’t help to put you at ease, maybe it’s not a great fit. As my grandmother would say, there are plenty of therapist-fish in the sea.
Acupuncture. I have seen acupuncture do amazing things, especially for trauma. Many report “feeling themselves again” for hours, days, or weeks. Any amount of time feeling better can be an inspiration, can help us hope. I recommend doing your research on Yelp or other review services before trying a new acupuncturist.
“Alternative” or “complimentary” medicine includes St. John’s Wort, Omega Three Fatty Acids, and endless other natural treatments. If you’re interested, I recommend speaking to an Herbalist or Naturopath in your area. People trained in complimentary medicine tend to take a whole body approach, which can be a welcome change and may be much more appropriate for depression than the strict mind-body split you often find from western medicine. (St. John’s Wort may interfere with the efficacy other medications.)
Medicine can help. I’ve recently, on my fourth try, started to have some success with a chemical intervention and it’s SUCH a relief. Many people are hesitant, and that’s ok too. Nothing is right for everyone.
Exercise is a go-to for lots of people with depression. Whether it’s yoga, jogging, or P90X, it can be a great way to maintain your progress or curb a downward slide.
**Edit** Rest. Lordy how could I forget rest? Whether its sleep (within reason), a slow walk, some TV, or doing very little with a good friend, I think rest is crucial to recovery. It gives your mind time to heal.
What did I leave out? What’s worked for you? Click through to the individual post to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.