Depression is quite the common ailment in modern times, and it's no surprise. With increasing external pressures from work to social media, to goals we set for ourselves that we find difficult to meet, to circumstances dealing with grief and pain — life can throw us a lot of things that can send us through a loop.
However, our coping mechanisms can vary. Everyone handles hardships differently. The way our brains are wired and the chemical balances in our bodies can absolutely affect the approach one takes to these life pitfalls.
For those who are more easily capable of compartmentalizing the awful, scary, or disappointing things in life, it can be very challenging to understand the complete alienation, darkness, and suffocating nature of depression. It is particularly painful to watch someone you love go though this as well. But there are certain things you can do to offer someone you care about the support they need when they are under that veil of hopelessness.
Dr. Susan George, MD, says, "Be a supportive and nonjudgmental listener." This is the most simple and effective advice as sometimes it's all a person needs. You won't solve their problems, but the support can go a long way. It's important that you hear them out. You may not fully grasp the scope of their problem, but it is crucial that you put them first in the conversation and relinquish any opinions of your own. Really make yourself available to allow them to feel heard.
Don't Discredit Their Feelings
It is important to stay away from phrases like "That's stupid!" or "Why would you ever think that?" or "Snap out of it!" They feel the way they do for a reason, whether or not that makes sense to you. Make sure that if they open up to you, you validate how they feel and instead offer words of encouragement and positive connotations.
Do Not Judge
To emphasize Dr. George's "nonjudgmental" advice, this is crucial. If anything adds to depression and anxiety when someone is fully enveloped in it, it's feeling like they are "weird" or "unusual." You already feel alone when going through depression, you don't want to add any additional judgment to the mix because that will just worsen. So in order to truly help and be there, you need to stay open-minded, and any strong opinion by way of what they are going through should likely be kept to yourself.
Offer Support of Seeking Help
There is no shame in seeking professional help. Dr. George even says if you notice your friend is stopping their usual activities and daily routines, it is best to suggest it. In fact, that is one of the best ways to fight depression. It is important to learn the tools needed in order to restructure thinking habits. It is also therapeutic for a person to discover where their issue may stem from, how to learn their triggers, and how to ignore or navigate them. Encourage your friend to try this option out. Sometimes therapy can intimidate a person, but it is important to know that they don't feel weak or even more isolated by going.
Also, there is no shame in medication either. Let them know you fully support them visiting their doctor to see what options may help there. Sometimes there is just a chemical imbalance that can easily be corrected. People need medication for all different things and mental health is no different than a diabetic or person with high blood pressure taking medication.
It can be frustrating to watch someone you care about go through pain. Just remember that it is your job to be supportive and loving and patience is a key in this.
Make a Plan
Make a plan and put something on your calendars that is easy, fun, and light — like a play, a dinner, or a day in the park. Dr. George suggest a bike ride or morning ride together as exercise helps the body naturally fight depression. Activity also keeps the brain busy and can help a person going through depression start to focus on other things.
Validate Your Love For Them
No matter what, it is important to let this person know that you care about them and love them. Make sure they understand that you will be there no matter what. That sort of support can really help a person fight through the negativity and feel worthy.