Disclaimers: This is coming from a person who has experienced depression for more than half her life and still encounters it regularly. I’m not a therapist, though some have said perhaps I should be. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have enough money to go to school to become one.
That being said, I’m stunned sometimes that, even with the Internet in our pockets, some people seem at a loss to know how to help a loved one, acquaintance, or even a stranger who is experiencing depression. So, a few simple tips.
Step 1: Actually care. Don’t just pay lip service to caring. Show up. Communicate. Be available. Listen. Reach out. Build a support system for the person experiencing depression. Find resources that can help. How do you do that? I suggest the…Internet. *GASP* I know, right?
Step 2: Educate yourself. Admit what you don’t know, then do something about it. There’s no legitimate excuse for failing to educate yourself. There’s a wealth of useful, informative, worthwhile information on depression, what it is and isn’t, how it feels to some people, how it varies from person to person, and “HOW NOT TO TALK TO SOMEONE WHO IS DEPRESSED.” I swear if you Google that exact phrase, you’ll find some helpful articles.
Step 3: Pay attention to how you use language.
- Use person-centered language. Don’t refer to a person as their diagnosis. There’s a difference between “depressed friend” and “friend who experiences depression.”
- Try to avoid adversarial language. Use “experiences” rather than “battles.” Use “encounters” rather than “fights.” Use “will overcome,” “will triumph,” “is surviving,” “is living with.” It matters how we speak of and relate to depression and people who are in the midst of depression.
Step 4: Keep well-meaning, empty platitudes to yourself. Do not, I repeat do not offer platitudes. Under no circumstance should you say “I’ll pray for you” UNLESS THE PERSON HAS ASKED YOU TO PRAY FOR THEM. Do not imply that depression is a mood that someone can “snap out of.” It is not. Confused? Go back to step 2 and educate yourself some more.
Step 5: Don’t say that you understand. It will sound fake or insincere, 99.9% of the time. You don’t and you can’t, because no two experiences of depression are the same. The same person experiencing depression at different times in life doesn’t have the same experience each time. Say “I don’t understand.” Say, “I’m working to understand,” or “I want to listen.”
Step 6: Figure out ways to help, keeping in mind what you know of the person experiencing depression. Don’t ask the person experiencing depression how you can help them UNLESS THEY SAY “DO YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU COULD HELP ME?” Maybe they need help doing chores, help getting to appointments, help with accountability, a regular phone call, a meal…figure it out. For help figuring out ways to help, yes, I said it, see steps 2 and 9.
Step 7: Follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you want to help, help. If you say you want to listen, listen.
Step 8: Don’t say you’re going to be there unless you mean it. Don’t offer help that you can’t give. If you can’t help and can’t be there, then be honest about it. Don’t pretend otherwise just to make yourself more comfortable.
Step 9: Did I mention educate yourself? You’re not a therapist, no. But are you a human being? Because we’re in this human condition together, and we need each other.
Step 10: Take care of yourself. Sacrificing yourself on the altar of “helping” is not helpful.
This isn’t meant to be exhaustive. I think educating yourself covers a lot of ground, really.
What would you add to the list? What are things that have helped you when you’ve experienced depression? What are things that were hurtful or harmful while you were in the midst of it?