How Can I Help My Friend with Depression?

Jul 23, 2018    /    philosophy

It’s been a little while since the back-to-back celebrity suicides.

The help line numbers in my social feeds have quieted. The public worry has shifted onto other horrors.

And I’m still thinking about depression.

Still processing the experiences I read about. The ones that resonated with my own experiences and the ones that were very different.

I’m also still thinking about something my best friend said to me a few months ago. About how she wished more people gave actionable advice. It’s important to tell our stories. It’s important to share what not to do. But she wished there were more articles that started or ended with what to do.

What can we actually do about the thing that we’re bothered by, outraged by, horrified by?

And so I wanted to take the time here to talk about what you can do for the people you love who might be depressed. Some of this is based on my own experience. Some comes from what I’ve read and heard. All of it matters, even when it’s small.

If someone makes a joke or a passing comment about being depressed, anxious, OCD, etc., don’t let it pass.

What might seem like a tiny passing comment might be someone checking to see if you care.

When you tell someone you’re depressed (or anxious, etc.), sometimes they react badly. One of the things I did during my earliest (and worst) depressive episodes was make passing comments or jokes to see how the people around me would react. If they blew it off, I did not share with them. If they seemed like they wouldn’t take it well, I didn’t share with them.

And, hey, that’s not fair, right? Because you might totally be there for your friend if they told you they were thinking about dying. But most of us won’t come straight out and tell you we’re thinking about dying. It’s too scary. Too dangerous.

So, if someone says something about mental illness in passing, stop the conversation. Ask about it.

I’ve done this quite a few times in the past few years and often I find that the people casually mentioning depression aren’t just casually mentioning it.

And what does stopping the conversation look like…?

Something like this:

Friend: [makes joke about depression or mentions that they’ve been feeling kinda depressed – generally makes it seem like not a big deal]

Me: So, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but when you say you’re depressed, what do you mean? Do you mean you’re having a tough week or something more? [Here I also always mention that I’ve been diagnosed because I want people to know that I get it and if they want to talk to me, they’re safe doing so. If you don’t have a history of depression yourself, this would be a good place to say that you care about the person and if they’re depressed, you’d like to know more.]

Skip the help lines and let people know they can come straight to you.

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts sharing suicide hotlines and other resources. And okay, that’s fine to share. BUT many people won’t call a suicide hotline for a whole host of reasons.

So what if, instead, you offered not a resource, but yourself?

A friend of mine posted in the wake of all this sharing how sad she was and how much she cared and in her Facebook post she literally posted her own phone number. Not a hotline. Her number. She said, dudes, call me. I will listen. I will call a therapist and make you an appointment. I will show up at your doorstep and tell you that you matter.

Now, obviously, not everyone can give out their number to their whole Facebook community. But of all the responses I’ve seen online, this is the one that I felt like I actually would respond to if I were struggling. This was the one that felt like it had skin in the game.

And it’s okay not to make it a social media free-for-all. But if you know someone with depression, anxiety, etc. and you want to help, send them your phone number or your email. Let them know you want to hear from them. Let them know you’re going to show up.

Show up and take action.

One of the big lies depression tells is this: you are a burden. And it’s partly because of this lie that it is really hard to ask for help. Asking someone to pick you up or take you to therapy or come over and sit with you or whatever it is that you need feels like asking for the world. You feel like you aren’t worth it. And so it’s harder to ask.

Which is why when I read this story – about a group of friends who showed up to unpack for their depressed friend – it resonated so deeply with me.

There have been so many times when I my dearest wish was that someone else would figure out what I needed and come sweeping in to the rescue. Because I didn’t feel like I could ask. And I also didn’t feel like I could do the little things I needed to do.

Now, as the woman in the above story mentions, this can backfire. You might show up to unpack your friend’s things and they refuse to answer the door. But personally, I wish more people had seen through my make-believe I’m-okay facade and showed up with home-cooked meals or offered to help me find a therapist when I was too exhausted.

So don’t be afraid to try and show up, even if sometimes it means a friend not answering their door.


Now, to you, friends: for those who have experiences with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, what practical things do you recommend people do to communicate their love in the down times?

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2 Comments
  • DLR
    July 23, 2018

    What does one do when a sibling gets to the point where her grasp of reality has deteriorated to the point where she is homeless and calls and talks to you as if you are aware of people and places that you have no clue about? She is also argumentative and after 45 seconds she is verbally abusive? At least she calls so I know she is alive. I live 1000 miles away, and any suggestions about getting help from me, my other sister, and my step father and his wife go unheard. It is sad. This dear person is bipolar and has been homeless in the past, but this incident is worse– and she is 59 years old. She’s been off her meds for 3 years and each passing month she gets further from reality and social skills.

    • gigigriffis
      July 23, 2018

      So sorry to hear about this situation. I am not super familiar with bipolar, but I’m always a fan of speaking with a psych professional about situations like this. There may be nothing you can do, but the first place I’d start would be by asking someone like that.

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