So your loved one has depression…

I only took one thing away from my college speech class in 2011: Communication is situational. I replaced “communication” with “everything”.

Everything is situational.

This isn’t a cookie-cutter guide on how to help your loved who one has depression and you have literally no clue on how to deal with it, nor is it something you can solely rely on or blame if it comes up. I’m not at all responsible for how anyone interprets this; I’m merely sharing what I feel could have been different for me had things been different. It’s just my situation, and I’m not longer in middle school and running a Xanga advice site, giving out crappy advice like, “You shouldn’t kill yourself because ___.” I’m better at relationship advice.1

You don’t know, therefore do not judge.

Whether they’re hurting themselves or smiling one day and then crying the next — or even five minutes later — you don’t know what they’re truly feeling, so don’t judge them. Don’t tell them others have it worse or that “life goes on” or the risks of anything. Don’t get onto them or call them crazy. Don’t even allow yourself to assume what they’re feeling, because doing so can lead to you making other decisions for them and/or assuming more things that needn’t be assumed. If you want to know, ask. However, just because you ask doesn’t mean they’ll tell you.

Be prepared.

Be prepared for the worst. Be prepared to hear the worst. Be prepared to see the worst. Just be prepared.

With that said, don’t shut them up when they start spilling out things that’s on their mind. “Get it out of the front of your mind” has been said to me so much this year that it’s all I imagine I’ll hear when I try to open up to someone else.

Don’t break their trust.

If they confide in you, they trust you. Think of yourself as a confidant — their confidant. Don’t tattle, don’t judge. Don’t run off and tell someone who is closer to them whether in distance or in relationship what they’ve just told you; if you do, they’ll likely never tell you anything ever again. They trusted you of all people! By running off and telling someone else, you’re doing exactly what they expected you’d do — you’re doing what they were afraid of.

Shortly after I opened up to an aunt, she called my grandmother who basically lectured me and told me to pray to God and ask him to take it away. All that did was make me feel as if it was my fault for not praying, etc., and I ended up hating myself even more. I even cut that night. I originally wasn’t going to, but I literally felt like I didn’t have anyone. Don’t be like that.

Get them help.

Find them a therapist to talk to, or have them look for one if they’re not reluctant. Tell them you’ll call once they find a therapist they like that fits both the budget and their insurance (if needed), and then call when they give you the therapist’s name and information.

I found a few therapists around March, but they were always far away. Then, I found some around June and July, but my phone anxiety didn’t match up with my anxiety about calling in for help and actually getting help. I could have received help sooner if people hadn’t told me that it was my responsibility to get myself set up into some help. How could I seriously be responsible for getting myself help when I literally didn’t care about myself at all? How could I have gotten help sooner when I spent all day and all night either crying, sleeping or thinking about ways I could kill myself?

Have patience.

Don’t ask them how long they think they’ll go through this. Time takes time, and fighting depression could, for all anyone knows, take one’s entire life to beat. They may never beat it! They may have good days, they may smile one second and then go mad the next; don’t judge them, don’t diagnose them with what you read on the Internet2, don’t be an asshat.

Be aware; educate yourself.

Rather than assuming “it will all blow over eventually”, don’t be ignorant. Look up things online about depression. Learn about it. PTSD the case instead? When I found The Redhead Riter, I finally felt like I was one tiny percent less alone. She’s got some pretty awesome posts on PTSD and depression.

Just be open-minded.

The best way is to take it by the day.

  1. I’m “that friend” who gives great relationship advice whose relationship advice “just doesn’t work for them”. Thus, whilst all my friends are in happy ‘ships due to my advice, I’m forever alone.
  2. Don’t call it Bipolar Disorder, etc.

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Comments on this post

Areeba’s gravatar

Oh this post is FOR ME! My best friend (both of them) are super emotional. I just need to be calm every time and wait how long does it take! Most of them I end up contacting their mums and get them some coffee, whoop!

Liz’s gravatar

Ah, I wasn’t talking about “super emotional”… I was being serious — not referring to something cup of Joe can resolve.

Areeba’s gravatar

No, no no! I know you already said you’re being serious. I was just sharing how I control my friends issues 🙂

claire’s gravatar

“Don’t even allow yourself to assume what they’re feeling..”
This. So much this. It’s impossible to know how another person is feeling. In my totally-not-expert opinion even if a person tells you “I am feeling x” you still can’t assume you know or understand what their experience of x is. I mean, unless you can somehow experience all the factors that have influence those feelings AND have experienced all of their past, have all of their knowledge and have your brain wired exactly the same as theirs so you’re able to interpret those factors in the exact same way they have. -.-

Stephanie’s gravatar

Yes, I second this! And from my own experience, this applies to people who legitimately have bipolar disorder too.

Robin’s gravatar

I like your statement “Everything is situational”. It is a pet peeve of mine when people think all marriages are the same, all relationships are, all men or women are, etc. They are afraid to get married because their friend’s husband cheated, and so forth.

I especially like what you wrote about not judging.

Chester’s gravatar

I like point number 5. I am the clown of my gang so when somebody in group is in “depression” I am the one who usually takes charge. Having the longest bar of patience is really necessary since “these” people might ramble on the same things over and over and over. As a friend, I just tend to repeat things and make everything clear to her again. This post is very useful indeed.

Maria’s gravatar

Having dealt with depression (and still most likely forever dealing with the aftermath of it), I can relate to this post so much.

I’ve seen two psychologists who both claimed they knew how I felt based on whatever they learned in a book about a situation similar to mine. I was infuriated by them not truly listening to me (not until I got to my third psychologist) and so I found myself lying to them because I was embarrassed about not having made any “progress”. Their advice just wasn’t catered to my situation and instead only had me sinking deeper and become more unhappy with myself than I was to begin with. In the end, I managed to crawl out of the hole I was in because I opened up to my family about how I felt. I was given patience and understanding as well as positive reinforcement that helped boost my self esteem, and that’s what I needed. That, and lots of space.

And that’s what I try to give my friends who I see are dealing with depression. Like you said, I also really think that honouring the trust your friends display when they confide in you is sacred. That, and I feel that aside from getting them the help they need, which is obviously paramount, giving them space to be unhappy every once in a while as well as achieve things by themselves without trying to smother themselves is super important too.

Vivian’s gravatar

Thank you so much for this. I suffered from major depression throughout college and am still battling it (along with a REALLY nasty form of panic/anxiety disorder) every day. It’s so hard, especially for my parents and some close friends who don’t “believe” in depression and think that people can will their way out of it. Yes, it is something that can be conquered, but it’s not as easy as going to bed and waking up the next morning refreshed and cured. I love the perspective you’ve put into this, especially regarding educating yourself and being patient. If only all of my acquaintances could do the same.