How should you interact with a friend, lover, family member, or anyone who has depression? It’s not easy, but here’s a rough guide. Written by someone who knows.
1) Know the triggers. These are many and varied and I’ll admit, hard to spot, but when you’ve known the person for a long time they do become more apparent. It might be music, a place, a specific activity or even meal. You will not be able to avoid these things, but being aware can help you treat your friend with compassion.
2) If you notice that your friend who has depression has become quiet and sad, don’t directly ask “what’s wrong?” – depression is an illness; everything is wrong. Instead, ask the person what they want for dinner, or if they fancy watching a film. A comedy. Sometimes distraction is the best technique.
3) Your friend feels overwhelmed by some seemingly inconsequential task (getting out of bed, taking a shower, changing the duvet cover). Don’t step in and take over. This can make the person feel helpless and worthless. Sometimes the best way to help someone is to wait until they are ready to help themselves. You could try making it easier for them, for example by playing a song they like to entice them out from under the covers.
4) Try and plan activities together, a few days beforehand. Having something, even if it’s just a coffee and a chat, to look forward to can be a great motivation for someone with depression.
5) Don’t try to compare the situation of your friend with those of others. I have been confronted with, for example, “but children are dying of hunger in Africa, that’s really sad”. I know. That makes me feel even more powerless and worthless, that I am capable of such complacency.
6) Remember: your friend is not defined by their illness. They don’t want to be miserable or make other people feel bad. They are capable of being fun, clever, interesting…just stick with it. Please.