A Friend In Deed: How Not to Help Someone Battling with Depression
Life is tough for all of us. It’s easy and convenient to assume that there’s a quick fix to cheer up someone who is experiencing depression. However, it may not be as simple as you think. Depression is a mental illness that can take many months or years to overcome, and often times when you think you’re helping someone, you may actually make his or her condition worse.
Hold the “Tough Love”
Given the fact that depression is an emotionally-based illness, many people believe that being “too sensitive” may be the cause, and thus decide you may need a bit of “tough love”…not so fast!
Anyone can be affected by depression and it’s rather snide to assume that a few words will totally change someone’s life around. If you are going to offer words try saying something positive rather than being “tough.” To tell someone who is depressed to “get it together” or “snap out of it” is condescending. This is equivalent to telling someone their feelings aren’t valid, which is obviously one of the worst things you can say to someone who is already stuck in their feelings.
Drag Them Out of the House
If you’ve read any studies on depression, you likely know that sunlight and fresh air are said to be very powerful cures for depression. While this does have some validity, you can’t simply think that it will work for everyone. Some people seclude themselves from others because they have certain triggers than come along with social situations. Dragging them out will only force them to pretend they’re having fun, then add your calls to the “ignore” list as soon as they return to the comfort of their homes. People get depressed for a plethora of reasons, and sometimes a celebration is the last thing they need.
Compare Them to Others
Never compare a depressed person to someone else. Unless, it’s to validate their own experience. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to say, “Yeah, a friend of mine went through something similar and it was really hard for her!” Equally important, it is absolutely never acceptable to say “Well, my sister went through worse and she’s just fine!” This is one of the worst things you can say to someone who is already depressed. It’s as if you’re telling them that they’re too weak when in actuality many end up depressed for trying to remain too strong for too long.
Furthermore, it’s equally insulting to say, “There are kids starving in Africa, you don’t have real problems!” This is a common tactic used by people supposedly to help put things into perspective…but what you’re really saying is, “Your problems don’t exist, don’t be such a baby!”…or at least, that’s certainly how what you say will be perceived.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the best way to help someone deal with depression is just to be there in the way that they need you. Some prefer to sit alone, some prefer to go to clubs, some prefer to vent, some hardly talk at all. The point is to let them know they’re not alone, not to pretend to be better as quickly as possible, just to soothe your conscience. Often times people are depressed because they feel unloved or misunderstood.
The worst thing you can do is give them a glimmer of hope…only to parrot cliché phrases and leave them once again, in darkness.