I usually didn't confide to my mother that I had been going through a bout of depression until I felt that it was lifting. My mother would say to me "why didn't you tell me? I want to help" or "let me know when you are having a hard time." One day when we were having this conversation I told her that not asking for help is a symptom of the depression.
I'm simply not willing or able to ask for help when I need it. There are probably clinical reasons for this that I don't feel competent to attempt to explain. But for me, not being able to ask for help is a sign that I'm in trouble.
So what can you do for a friend or loved one going through a bout of depression?
- Make the important phone calls that your loved one doesn't have the energy to make. These would making therapy appointments and calling the health insurance company to see where they can seek help. This was one the biggest hurdles for me. To get help, I needed to call my health insurance to see what was covered. It was beyond daunting, confusing and aggravating. If I recall correctly it took me 4-6 phone calls to set up an appointment with a therapist covered by my insurance. And it took me months because after 20 to 30 minutes on the phone I didn't have the energy to make the next call necessary. If your loved one admits that they are suicidal, dial the suicide prevention hotline for them and stay with them on the call. Don't just hand them the number and trust they will call it later.
- Don't just offer open ended or vague help. I know most people are afraid of being pushy but be specific in your offer of support. For example, the offer of "let me know if you ever need to talk" is well intentioned but your loved one will probably not take you up on it. Something that might be more helpful would be to set up a recurring activity that they might enjoy. Things like going for a bike ride every other Saturday or a weekly movie night or going to a comic book store once a month or church on Sundays. Make a standing date that gives you both something to look forward to.
- Come over and just watch tv. Usually people in the throes of depression are fatigued and don't have a lot of energy to burn. So low energy activities like a netflix night might get a more enthusiastic response.
- Don't take unreturned phone calls personally. Keep trying and don't let your loved one feel bad about not calling you back
- Remind them of the things that make life worth living for them
- Tell them emphatically that another good day is coming and it will be worth it
- Use logical reasoning with your loved one. When I was most severely depressed, my feelings were lying to me but the rational side of my brain was still functioning. I understood that while life seemed endlessly hopeless, it was still preciously short. That logic could be used on me to, say, go to a concert of a band I liked by reasoning that they may not tour in our town again for a long time, or ever if they break up!
If you have any other tips and suggestions on how to support a friend or loved one with depression, please leave it in the comments section.