Wondering how to help a friend with depression? Here are some tips from someone who has first-hand experience with the illness
Mental illness is finally being talked about more openly thanks to organisations like Mind Hong Kong and TALK Hong Kong. But what do you do when you think that someone you love may be affected by depression? It can be a really tough position to be in when you’re trying to support someone through the depths of this illness, and having been on both ends of the spectrum–as the sufferer and the supporter, I wanted to share some different ways that you can help your friend who has depression. I’m not a medical professional, but these are tips I have found to be useful over the years, so I hope you find them useful.
How to help a friend who has depression
1. Be there and listen
I think that one of the key things about depression is that it’s impossible for anybody to understand exactly what one person’s depression feels like. This illness manifests itself in so many forms, and if you’ve never had it yourself, it can sometimes be hard to understand what the big deal is, especially if you feel like your friend has nothing to be sad over.
It’s not your job to cure anybody. So often, people want to fix their loved ones; pick them up and drag them to the doctor. But most of us living with depression just want someone to be there. We don’t need anybody to tell us to go to the doctor over and over–it’s more than likely that we already know this.
If you feel like your friend is suffering from depression, suggest something simple like watching a movie together, going for a walk, or making them dinner. Remember, it may be difficult for them to even leave the house, so watch parties online or playing video games over the internet could be great solutions.
When they’re ready to talk, listen to them. Take in what they’re saying but don’t feel like you have to fix them. Be honest. Phrases like: “That sounds really tough” or “I’m so sorry that you’re going through this” are all you need to say to show that you’re empathetic to their situation.
2. Do some research on depression
This is especially true if you’ve never experienced this illness yourself. Have a quick Google and you’ll find loads of first-hand accounts over the internet about how other people have coped with their depression. You don’t need to become the world’s foremost expert on the subject, but it will help you get a better understanding of what’s happening to your friend.
3. Offer to help with the little things
When I was severely depressed, it was the little things that I found the most difficult to do for myself. Building up the energy to have a shower felt like running a marathon, and I LOVE having showers!
Look, nobody is asking you to bathe anyone, but offering to pick up some groceries, do the dishes, or to put on some laundry makes a huge difference. While the person may not like accepting your help at the beginning, there’s no doubt they’ll be grateful in the long run. And what’s a little friendship without casually entering their home and forcing your love on them by way of doing chores?!
4. A little text here (a little text there)
A couple of texts a week to let your friend know you’re thinking of them can do wonders. You don’t have to ply them with questions, in fact it’s better to tell some stories of what’s happening with you or what’s going on around town. Fill them in on the goss, make them laugh, send a GIF. Those little things mean a lot when you’ve been in bed for three days straight and you’re hiding from the world.
5. Help them find support
It may very well be that they don’t even know they’re depressed (how do you know you have something that you’ve never experienced before?)
If they’re unsure about how to get help, do some research for them. Find what getting mental health help looks like in your area. Offer to go with them to the appointment.
Just remember, that at the end of the day, it will be up to them to find the strength to ask for help, so you can’t force anything on them.
6. Look after yourself
Having experience on both sides of the coin with depression, I can attest to how difficult it can be to support someone you love who has this illness. Often, it can feel that all rhyme and reason goes out the door, as many people don’t want to admit they are suffering, speak allowed about the problem, or–even worse… take medication.
It’s really taxing trying to remain positive when part of you thinks that it would just be easier to eject yourself from the situation entirely. So be sure to be gentle on yourself. Exercise, do things you enjoy, surround yourself with other friends and family who can support you.
In Hong Kong, there are a variety of avenues to getting mental health help. Mind Hong Kong documents them well on their blog here.