Depression is a lonely beast, and it can happen to anyone. Of course, everyone is different, but I’ve collated a few ideas of how you can help a friend when they’re going through a difficult time. Things that have helped me in my experiences.
What you can do
Sit with them. If they’re not with you, they may not want company, but offer it. If you’re out with them or you work with them and they’ve become overwhelmed: sit with them. Sometimes a hand on their shoulder or a hug can be a great comfort. Not everyone is comfortable with physical contact, particularly if anxiety is involved, so try to gauge the person and the situation.
Send them mail. If you can’t be with them, send them a letter or package that lets them know you’re thinking of them. If you don’t have time to make one yourself, The Blurt Foundation make a Buddy Box as a one-off gift or a monthly subscription, filled with at least 5 items carefully curated to comfort, inspire and uplift. Items vary, but things such as a mindfulness colouring book, a pack of soothing tea, essential oil & a pack and silly little inspirational postcards are some things I’ve received in the past.
If you want to make something more personal, take some inspiration from the Buddy Box, with items unique to your friend & your friendship. Find a pretty box, wrap up the gifts. It doesn’t have to be expensive, take a look in the toy section of charity shops for little figures, send some silly stickers, a postcard, a book they might enjoy, maybe a notebook or some sachets of tea or a nice coffee. Lavender oil to help with sleep or something smelly for the bath. The possibilities are limitless, just think of what might make them smile. Everyone loves getting mail, and they will feel loved, valued and cared for. It’s a small gesture that will last.
Reassure them that their feelings are valid, even if they feel they have no reason to feel that way. There may be something in their life that has triggered these feelings, it may just be down to chemicals in their brain, either one is valid and they’re still hurting and that’s okay. Chances are they’re beating themselves up for not managing their emotions as they feel they should.
Make them a cup of tea. Never underestimate the power of a good brew. This gesture is so small, but here in the UK it’s symbolic of love and affection – it’s weird, I know, but I’m always touched by the offer!
Offer to take them out. Be it to a nice cafe, a cinema outing, road trip or a walk in the woods. Getting out is paramount to not slipping further into a slump, so if they’re up to it offer up your company.
Suggest resources. If they can’t talk to you, giving them contact information for someone like Samaritans or Mind – they can call or email to talk about what’s going on with them. Sometimes they may not want to share or ‘burden’ a friend, people in these organisations are trained to help and listen and can suggest professional body our courses of action that may help. They can also help to support you and give more ideas as to how you can help your friend. You could also suggest going with them to a doctor’s appointment if it’s not crossing a boundary.
What not to do
Don’t bombard them with questions. Ask if there’s anything that you can do, but give them time to talk and listen to what they have to stay.
Don’t force them to do something. Getting outside and doing something can be great for the mind, but it also maybe distressing for them. Giving them the option to take a walk with you or drive them somewhere is a great idea, but don’t push them if it’s not what they want.
Likewise, don’t force them to talk. Let them know you’re there to listen, but don’t push them if it’s not right for them in the moment.
Avoid empty platitudes. “Come on, things’ll get better”, although from a good place, often do not help and can be frustrating to hear. “Cheer up, it’s not that bad”, etc. Chose your words carefully, don’t minimise what they’re feeling. “You’ll get through this, but it’ll take time I’m here”.
We’re all different, and the bottom line is there is little you can do to change the way someone else feels long-term. But your support could be a huge help in making them feel less isolated and guilty. Above all, be patient, be gentle and be sensitive to that person. Be gentle. Don’t try to minimise how they feel and be there if you can. It can make the world of difference.