Sometimes life can get tough.
Things can be going great, then, seemingly from nowhere, the world can feel like it is crashing down around you. The emotions can be overwhelming and finding a way out of this dark place can be very difficult. If your friend or someone you love goes through this, and tells you they are down, what do you do? How can you help?
First things first, feelings of depression or anxiety can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s not just a case of ‘feeling a bit sad’, but instead a very serious, even life threatening condition. Knowing how to help in these situations can feel impossible; you want to help the person you love, but don’t want to make things worse, so feel completely stuck. You are not helpless in this, you can help, and I’ve written a few suggestions below.
1) Be there.
Plain and simple really; be there for your loved one. Tell them you’re there no matter what. Whether they want to talk or not, just let them know you are there. It may be the case that the person really doesn’t want to talk, but knowing that they have a friend, who isn’t scared off or thinks they are being weird, can be enough to provide some comfort.
2) Don’t make the person feel guilty.
“Just think of the people in Syria / people with cancer / some other horrible scenario, you’re much better off than them”. As much as you may think getting some perspective can help, to someone feeling depressed or anxious, this is likely not going to help at all. They most likely already feel pretty pathetic for ‘being upset over nothing’, so pointing out how they have no real reason to be upset will just intensify these feelings of hopelessness and guilt.
3) Don’t pressurise the person.
You may have plans to meet this person, and they may cancel. If you are down or anxious, the thought of social situations can be very overwhelming, so cancelling plans may seem like the only solution (especially if even getting out of bed is a struggle!). If your friend cancels because they don’t feel well, don’t pressurise them, and definitely don’t go down the “oh just let your hair down, it’ll help” route. They are trying to do what is best and to cope with everyday things, so making them feel bad for not upholding their plans will be tough. Instead, suggest going to see the person yourself, in a more relaxed, quieter situation. Offer to bring popcorn and chocolate and tell them they don’t even need to move from their bed, that you can just watch movies. It may not work for everyone, but offering some friendship in a relaxed environment may help to distract them.
4) Find ways to help them.
When the person is feeling well, ask them for specific things that help them through rough patches. Dealing with tough times is a very individual process, and they will likely know exactly what works and what doesn’t – by having this prepared in advance you can know how best to help next time they need it. For a lot of people, exercise can help a lot, so if a friend reaches out, why not suggest you go for a walk? Alternatively, yoga could help to distract them from the internal monologue.
5) Tell them you love them.
Feelings of depression and anxiety can be incredibly isolating, making the individual feel very lonely. For some, they may tell themselves that none of their friends actually like them, or the voices in their head may tell them that they are alone. Remind them that this isn’t true; tell them how much you care for them.
6) What works for one person, won’t work for everyone.
This really is key. What may have helped you in the past may not help this person at all. We are all unique, and as such, we all handle emotion in very different ways.
For a lot, particularly those who are recovering and have been doing well, these short spells of darkness can be dealt with quite quickly, and often just need a day or two to work on some well-practised strategies (adult colouring books, good food, chocolate and movies are all tried and tested techniques for me!). For others in the depths of illness, it can take a very long time to see even a speck of daylight. Give the person time when they need it, ensure they eat well and sleep, and be there unconditionally. Most importantly, do not let their own emotions affect yours – it can be all too easy to match the individual’s down mood, but make sure you also look after yourself, else you’re no use to anyone!