Depression and anxiety are becoming so prevalent that you often find yourself faced with counseling/comforting a co-worker, friend or family member. Some people know just what to say to make other people feel better. For us lesser mortals, it can sometimes be awkward.
I drew up this list of do’s and don’ts that you might find useful:
5 Things to Do
This is probably the best thing you can do for someone who is depressed. Just be around for your friend (from here on, I am going to refer to the depressed person as “your friend”). Being there does not mean holding your friend’s hand literally or figuratively. It is more of a reassurance that you are there for your friend to share things with, if and when the need arises. Being there means being available–you can be on the other side of the world or in a different time zone but still be available on Skype, Facetime, videocall etc.
2. Be sympathetic
Your friend needs sympathy and unconditional support at this time. Even if the depressive state is a consequence of his/her own decisions/mistakes, this is not the time to be reminded of them
3. Be a good listener
There are people who try to reason or talk people out of their depression. In my opinion, this may not be useful. Although a small pep talk is useful, it is better to listen to your friend as much as possible. There are people who can draw others out of their shells. Then there are those who cause people to clam up. Always be a “shell opener”.
4. Offer help
Try to assess and anticipate what practical help your friend might need. For example, there is a lot of work to be done after a bereavement: paper work and arrangements etc. You could take some of those responsibilities off your friend’s shoulders. Your friend might need medical care; setting up doctors’ appointments and driving to and from there could be very helpful.
5. Suggest outings and activities
A fresh perspective or change of scene can sometimes work wonders for depression. This can be as small as going down to the nearby coffee shop or a as big as a holiday abroad. The important word here is “suggest”, your friend may be loathe to go out so don’t force it.
Visualise yourself in the same situation– use your imagination to figure out what you would like to hear when facing similar circumstances.
1.Don’t offer platitudes
Don’t offer inane platitudes like it’s all in your mind. That is one of the worst things you can say to someone who is feeling far from optimum.
2. Don’t be critical
At this point in time your friend is overly sensitive. Even a minor criticism like “Your tie is crooked” could be difficult to take. A better approach would be “Let me fix your tie for you”.
3. Don’t be judgemental
Maybe your friend has broken up with her spouse. He maybe a horrible person but at this time your friend doesn’t need you to point out his flaws. She needs you to help her through this difficult time.
4. Don’t talk too much
Your spirit of optimism and positivity is a very good influence for your friend. However, don’t overdo the good cheer. Sometimes people need time for quiet reflection. If your friend seems to be in such a phase, you will be more useful if you hover quietly in the background.
5. Don’t push or force
Everyone heals or recovers at their own pace. If you know of someone who got over their depression in six weeks but the friend you are currently helping is still miserable after six months, don’t draw comparisons.
This post is meant as a general guide, it makes no professional claims. Always make sure a depressed friend is seeing a psychiatrist or qualified therapist.