How to be a Friend to Someone With Depression

I have been doing an awful lot of thinking since I left Guatemala.  It has been a hard transition coming back to the States, especially since I left my team behind.  I’m also dealing with some culture shock.  It has been difficult, but I’m surviving.  The one thing that has left me heartbroken is some of the comments I have received since Wednesday when I made my suicide attempt.  Some were trying to be helpful, but overall, they still hurt.  Although I just wrote a blog post, I decided to write another one to try to explain a little better what depression is like, what’s helpful, and what’s not.

What is Depression Like?

The hardest thing in the world is trying to describe depression to someone who has never struggled with it.  I will try my best to do so in a way that will make you understand a little better.  Everyone goes through seasons of depression: after a death, a loss of a job, a financially hard time, etc.  These seasons are hard. There is no doubt about that.  They only last a short period of time, however, then they go away.  When someone is clinically depressed (at least in my experiance) it’s that dark and deep hurt people go through, only all the time.  It’s a constant, never ceasing, pain that causes one to lose hope in themselves.  It’s not only mental, however.  Depression causes your body to physically ach.  You lose energy and in some instances, you feel like you’re having a heart attack.  Depression is something I would never wish on my worst enemy.  With God’s help and the use of medications, you can be treated and healed.  That’s a long journey, however, and it’s not a simple fix.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel

“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”
Barbara Kingsolver

What is Helpful?

The most helpful thing you could ever do for someone with depression is try to understand.  Understand that they are struggling to hold onto life itself and that they have no hope.  Understand how they are trying to get help and if they aren’t, encourage them to do so. Understand that even on their best days, they still have depression, even if it doesn’t show on the outside. It’s helpful to be there for them; to help carry their burden.  Be a friend that loves them no matter what mood they are in. Send them encouraging notes and remind them that God made them special.

What’s NOT Helpful?

There are a variety of things I could list that are not helpful, but I will try to focus on the few things I’ve come across the most.  First off, it is not helpful to ask what triggered it.  A lot of times, depressive moods don’t have a trigger, and if they do, I will tell you.  It is also not helpful to say “You have so much to live for.”  We know that already.  It’s not a matter of having something to live for, it’s a matter of being in constant pain.  Don’t ever make the person feel guilty for being depressed.  It is NOT their fault.  They don’t want to be that way, trust me.  Don’t say, “If you just prayed more, it will go away.”  That’s like saying the same thing to a cancer patient.

Sometimes words can be more hurtful, than helpful.  Please do know, though, that I appreciate everyone who has ever tried to help me feel better.  This is just a way to help people understand how they can be the most effective in helping.  I know being friends with someone who is depressed is hard.  Please be encouraged, however, in knowing your friendship could be the thing that saves their life.  This quote is one of my favorites and sums it all up pretty well.

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
Stephen Fry

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