When I was struggling with severe depression, my greatest support came from my friends and family. They were the people who stood with me through the rough days, reminded me of the good ones, and supported me as I entered recovery. In the years since, I have been on the other side of the spectrum: I have seen friends and family walk through depression and have felt the helplessness of being unable to save them. Over time though, I have learned that while I cannot save my friends, I can support them. Here are 5 steps you can take to help a friend who may be struggling with depression.
- Ask “Are you okay?”
When we are struggling, there are many things that will keep us from asking for help. If you notice a friend acting out of character; if they have been leaving cryptic social media statuses, if they appear to be down and their social interactions have changed, then it is good to ask the question, “Are you okay?” Give them the opportunity to share how they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay to feel broken. Let them know that they matter by listening to them.
- Encourage them to seek professional help
As a friend, the most pro-active way you can help them enter recovery is to refer them to professional support. Encourage them to see a local counselor so they have a safe place to talk and begin to heal. Give them the numbers to crisis lines like 1 800- SUICIDE and suggest they visit a website like To Write Love On Her Arms (this also has the contact details of many local counselors in the US). You cannot make your friend receive help, but you can encourage them to do so. Drive them to an appointment and let them know it is okay to receive help.
- Connect them to a community
It can be draining caring for a friend who is struggling, that is why it is important they are linked in with a community of people who can support them. Invite your friend to join a sports team, a church group, a community group or to simply hang out with a group of people you trust. Give them the opportunity to connect with the world and feel valued. It’s amazing how this simple step will assist someone in persevering through the hard days and entering recovery.
- Set boundaries
In my own personal experience, I know that when people are struggling we will be unable to recognize boundaries, or we will feel so desperate we will over step them. It’s essential that you are available to help your friend, but when it begins to affect your life and the people around you negatively, you need to put boundaries in place. If 2am texts or phone calls are a reoccurring theme, suggest they call 1 800-SUICIDE. If your friend is in danger or may endanger other people, call 911. As a friend you are here to support them- let the professionals who are trained and equipped to work through this do the rest. To best help your friend, you must remain healthy while doing so. It’s okay to draw boundaries, and in the long run it will be better for both of you.
- Be their friend
It sounds simple, but by standing with your friend while they are walking through depression, you will have the greatest impact on their life. Let them know you are available to talk, or even just sit and be together. Invite them out for coffee and include them in social events. Write them a letter and ask them how they are going. We cannot save one another, but we can remind each other that we are worth saving.