Tips on what to do and what not to do when someone you care about is struggling
By Beth McColl.
If you’re lucky enough not to have experienced depression then you probably don’t understand what all the fuss is about. “Why does everyone have depression all of a sudden?” You might wonder, as you go about your daily life, eating yoghurts and paying bills, generally living in ignorant bliss. And fair enough.
If you haven’t had depression, you can’t fully comprehend it and why would you want to? Fuck depression. Depression is like an awful houseguest that you definitely didn’t invite to stay. But, here they are anyway, eating up your energy and making a huge mess. Depression doesn’t care that you have work to do. It doesn’t care that there are dishes in the sink and the bins need to go out. It devours your time and strength and will to continue.
Depression leaves you with crumbs. Crumbs are useless. You can’t do anything good with crumbs except make a delicious picnic for ants. Ants do not deserve picnics. It’s like if you got frozen in soup. It’s like hell. It’s like your head is full of cotton wool and static. It’s not a good time. I guess that’s why they called it depression and not Party Fun Brain. But who knows? I’m not a doctor. I’m just chilling. Anyway. You’re getting off topic as usual. This is so like you. Depression can do that to you.
What I was getting to was the point. And the point is this: What can you do when someone you love has got depression real bad? WELL.
PRACTICAL HELP GOES A LONG WAY
People with depression need all the things other people need. Food, water, a billion dollars in unmarked bills – the usual. But it’s hard for us to gain access to those things sometimes, on account having a meatloaf in place of the brain you used to know. Yes, empathy and solidarity are wonderful things, as are flowers and little notes. Sometimes though, what we need the most is for someone to come over and put a wash on, or bring us food, or tidy away some of the depression clutter.
When a person’s depressed, they don’t know how long it will take to get them out of their slump, and sensing exasperation from friends only makes things worse. So relax. Depression goes when it goes. No-one invites depression in, to fester in their brains, and you can’t send it scurrying back to wherever it usually lives. Please relax. Just being there is good enough. Your friend will no doubt be working harder than you can imagine to stay alive and get through each day, so don’t try and rush them, or question what’s going on inside their head. Just look at the outside of their head (where their face might be) and say “You’re strong. I’m here with you through this. You are going to feel better.”
DON’T SAY DUMB SHIT
Dumb shit would include: “you should eat healthier and exercise more”, “what are you sad about though?” “[Invitation to do something self-destructive and dangerous]”. If your friend is acting in a way you really can’t get your head around, google is a wonderful resource. There are at least seven websites focused on depression that you can refer to if you’re confused. Plus, the internet has an amazing ability to explain any symptoms, although obviously consulting a doctor would be advisable.
Don’t nag your depressed friend to describe what their mental illness is, or convince you that it is a real and serious condition that has very little to do with being sad. THEY DON’T HAVE TIME. THEY’RE CURRENTLY BUSY BEING VERY SICK. Treating depression like it’s an indulgence or an embarrassment is validating the very real shame that we already feel. The world asks us to be ashamed. It asks us to be quiet. What we need from our friends is for them to say “you don’t need to hide this. You don’t need to be ashamed. This is happening, it’s real, and it’s not your fault. Also you want a tiny apple pie? Here you go. Here is a tiny apple pie. It’s so small, right? Wow. Amazing.”
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Don’t martyr yourself for our emotional health, basically. That’s not how any of this works. Do what you can do. Don’t do more. Don’t make yourself weak to try and make someone else strong. Your wellbeing is important, and I promise you you’ll only exhaust yourself, and end up resenting us if you make it your job to nurse us through the whole ordeal. So don’t. Depressed people can struggle to be good or engaged friends at times and you’re allowed to feel frustrated about that. Take time off from it all if and when you need to. You aren’t failing us by looking after yourself. We love you. We’re just too weighed down to express that right now. Also don’t take our shit. Unacceptable behaviors don’t get a pass because the person is depressed. You don’t deserve cruelty or abuse so please tell us if we’re out of order; if not immediately then when our depressive episode has passed.
“Treating depression like it’s an indulgence or an embarrassment is validating the very real shame that we already feel. The world asks us to be ashamed”
HELP THEM STICK TO GOOD BEHAVIOURS / A HEALTHY ROUTINE
Breakfast needs to be eaten everyday. A walk in the afternoon is a good idea. Green tea can help. Everyone needs water. Taking medicine has to happen as prescribed. Whatever. These things seem simple but are often monumentally hard tasks when a particularly bad spell of depression comes around. A depressed person needs help doing the little things because to us they don’t seem to matter anymore.
Gentle reminders are good, or an all-caps text message that says “BITCH DID YOU DRINK WATER TODAY? ALSO LOOK AT THIS PICTURE OF A FRENCH BULLDOG EATING DONUTS. SO CUTE.” These sorts of gestures go a long way. Gently nudge us into behaving like humans. That way when the fog lifts and we can look around at our lives again, we won’t feel horrified at all the things we let slide. Maybe we’ll give you a little kiss on the head, too – for being a pal. Thanks.