How to care for a depressed friend?

Depression/anxiety may have touched your family, your friends, yourself; what helps you to deal with it? Sharing is caring!

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How to care for a depressed friend?

Postby nephtis » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:04 pm

I am new here and I am just not sure where to turn to so I thought I'd give this a try even if it is just put it out there.

I do have a history dealing with depressed people - both my parents have been diagnosed so I thought I would be "fine" and know what to expect.
Only, it seems my parents have protected me from the worst of it growing up.

Now I have a good friend who has been dealing with ups and lows for some time - but the current low is bad, it is really frightening me because there is talk of 'it just is too much to keep going on...'

And yes, it is an internet friendship - the kind where you feel comfortable trusting and opening up because the distance makes it "safe" - but it also makes helping someone really difficult when there is only communication through text and video and the occasional old-fashioned letter because hand-writing is so much more personal - but no direct interaction.

And I am just so helpless and just don't know what to do.

Gah, is there any help out there on how to actually be there for someone who is depressed?

Because my instincts seem to fail me and the advice I found reading up on it online makes me feel even more lost - and I am not sure if I am helping or making things worse. Nor how to judge the different sourses that I found there seems to be all kind of posts on that topic by very different authors.

It seems one writer’s DO is the next one’s DON’T.

Tell them you care for them and that they are important and you want them in your life VS. Don’t make them feel guilty by making them feel you need them because if they can’t bring up the energy to interact that will make them feel they failed you as a friend.

Tell them they have been better in the past and can be in the future, that there are things to look forward to and that there are ups and downs VS. Never ever tell them that the future or past is better because that will belittle the pain they feel in this moment.

Try to offer the occasional distraction and avoid centering everything on their depression, show them that there is a life outside their bubble VS. Don’t crack jokes, be serious because that behaviour is condescending and trying to lighten the mood could send the message that their pain isn’t real.

Include them in your life VS. Don’t burden them with your worries and having to spare energy for you.

Allow them to retreat into themselves and the comfort of solitude and preserve their energy not having to deal with people who they might feel are demanding anything from themVS. Keep in touch and make sure they don’t retreat completely from the world. Be there for them and make sure they know they are not alone.

Show emphathy and be supportive VS. By no means claim you understand because the only one who can understand the pain is the person feeling it and you belittle it by claiming you do.

Don’t ignore them VS. Give them space

Suggest therapy - especially if you think they might endanger themselves VS. Never ever suggest any kind of treatment, it is condescending.

And so on.

So if I say something simple like “I care for you and value your friendship!” Is that ok or making the person feel bad because it indicates I have expectations they might not be able to fulfill?

If I am worried for their safety will suggesting therapy help or send the message that I think they are 'nuts' and make them distrust me?

If I tell them about something that happened in my life am I showing them they are part of my life or am I being condescending by signaling that my life is more important than theirs?

If they retreat do I keep in touch or am I sucking the energy from someone who needs some alone time by trying to keep the communication open?

How do I make myself available and make sure they know I am without crowding or being seen as pushy?

It seems there are as many guidance lines as there are authors and I think in most cases it could be what the author personally would prefer for him- or herself, for their own life, given the often controversy statements.

It is a minefield!

For basically everything I do or say I can find advice that says how that is a bad thing to do and how it can be seen as belittling, condescending or extremely inconsiderate.
But then if I ignore the Do’s and simply try to avoid all the Don’ts combining the things I found would basically result in: Cut contact to avoid doing something wrong and wait for them to approach you.

Which frankly in my eyes would send a ‘I don’t care about you’ message if it happened to me and I wouldn't want to apprach a person who I felt deserted me in a time of need .- and every instinct me tells me NOT to do that.

The trouble is, I am not a trained professional, I care on a personal level and I am not a mind-reader.
I don’t know if the advice given by one person is valid for all. Or even the one case that is my problem.

All seem to agree that ‘being a good listener’ is a good approach – but what if the person retreats so much they just don’t talk or only answer direct questions? Even if it's often just a 'I don't know, I am just out of it' which leaves me lost for things to say.
I can only listen to so much silence before I try to fill it – sadly most often with some ramble because I don’t know which topics are safe or welcome…

Sometimes I feel pushed away, sometimes I feel welcome. Sometimes I feel like I should be in touch and then I feel like I am pushy by not remaining quiet.
I don’t know which advice is helpful and which isn’t.

And I feel paralyzed, fearing whatever I chose to do will be the wrong thing making everything worse. I know there is no real answer there, and that it is probably a very personal thing. I rationally know it is not personal but I feel helpless, inadequate, sad and frustrated because I just don’t know what to do yet I wish I could help.

Anyone here with experience with caring for depressed people?

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Postby jj » Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:04 pm

Hey there nephtis

Sorry you have a friend that is feeling so low at the moment. I think the main thing I got from this post is that you may be over thinking it. I understand you just want to care for your friend and not do the wrong thing, but I think you need to go inside yourself and trust yourself some more!

I think it's Important to remember that they are not the depression. There are no rights and wrongs because depression doesn't define who they are, and it changes from person to person.

I can tell you care for them and that is what you need to go with, trust your instincts and not what an article says is right or is wrong. Remember to take care of you, too, and to know your boundaries. You are their friend, remember that, not their caregiver, parent, or therapist. They need to know and understand that too.

Whilst sensitivity is really important, you can't always sugar coat things, and I think honesty is a massive part of it. Tell them how you feel, engage in conversation when you want to and don't when you don't want to, if it's getting too much for you, say something along the lines of, I care about you and I value your friendship, but some of these things are out of my ablilites to handle, and it's unreasonable to ask myself to try to help with this, this is something that a professional needs to Help you with. And then mention that you would be there to talk to them about the therapy and be there to support them, but you can't try to act like their therapist. Support from friends and family is key to managing depression, but it cannot be a replacement for professional help. It puts to much pressure on you, and too much hope in the depressed person that you can fix all their problems, when the hard work needs to come from them, not you.

Now I know it can be difficult to have these honest conversations sometimes, especially if we feel the person is going to be volatile, but sometimes the honest and hardest conversations are the most important, if you think they need professional help the you must tell them that, there is help out there and things can be so so much better for them if they seek that help out. I understand they might be frightened, but that is why you are there, that's your role as their friend to support them whilst they face their fears, but that support does mean that you might need to give them a push in the right direction and have some uncomfortable conversations.

Remind them that you care about them and definitely encourage them to seek out professional help. Think of it this way, if someone had a broken leg would you fear advising them to get health care for that? would you try and carry them around all day unable to walk?

I think talking to them about your life is good, for me personally I get to a point where I am just tired of talking and thinking about my feelings and thoughts and listening to someone else is a welcomed break. And they are your friend remember, treat them that away, engage in conversation how you would with your non depressed friends, but just sensitive to the fact that they might need more moral support than your non depressed friends.

Also, just reading over the last few things you said again, I think you need to talk to them! Honesty honesty honesty, tell them, you care about them, and ask them to be honest about when they don't want to talk, and when they do, and what they want, and tell them what you want.

The key idea is to create a channel of open conversation, where it's okay to be honest and to not get defensive, just to be understanding, compassionate, trusting, and honest. I know it can be hard supporting a person with severe depression but just remember you are their friend! Remember they are your friend, they are not depression.

Hmm I hope that helped some, I think I just wrote abit of an essay... Hope it doesn't contradict haha.... Just be honest, sensitive, know your boundaries, listen, really listen to them and their needs, and listen to yourself and your needs.

listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply.

Much love

Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. --Rumi

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Postby nephtis » Mon Apr 08, 2013 12:51 pm

Thank you for your reply jj!

I am glad to get your view on it, and you could be right I may be overanalyzing.
I am just worried that good intentions may make a bad situation worse so I try to be very cautious.

The other day her family asked her to help a bit in the house and vacuum the stairs and it resulted in her wanting to quit her job and locking herself into her room, never ever again leaving the bed because everybody was making demands of her and she could not deal.
And this is a woman in her mid-twenties we are talking about. I have known her for 6 years, she has had good and bad times but never a time this dark.

I am just not sure how I can act or help - especially since she does ask me to 'make it better' and I just can't - but it hurts not to be able to do anything.

But whenever I dare suggest something she either retreats even more or gets defensive or angry.
Be it counceling or suggesting consider switching from her night shift job to daytime when an opportunity opened up because working nightshift makes regular day activities like appointments at doctors or other places and even socializing almost impossible because she lives and sleeps on a schedule that is upside down to everybody else around her - and she feels attacked when people call at her during daytime even though it is naturally for most people to assume that this would be the convinient time to contact a person. I try to explain they don't do it to keep her from getting rest but... well...
Still, she says she couldn't deal with daytime and people that is why she needs to work nightshift.

So right now I am lost at what to do... she asks me to help her, but when I dare to suggest something I either don't get a reaction - or get blown off.
That is why I am extra careful because I want to keep up at least a line of communication - atm that seems all I can do and it is driving me up the walls.

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Postby TonyK » Thu May 30, 2013 10:36 am

Re: nephtis

Reading your first post I also wonder what is the right approach. Now I just go by my gut instinct if I should say or do something wrong and my depressed friend takes offense hopefully he will tell me so it won't happen again.

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Postby jj » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:06 pm

I wonder how your friend and you are nephtis
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. --Rumi


Postby Mikka » Tue Jun 17, 2014 7:52 pm

You can suggest that the person see a professional, a medical doctor or a mental health provider, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist.

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Postby sapphire » Wed Aug 20, 2014 11:56 pm

Hi nephtis,

My best friend and I have had a long distance relationship for years. It is definitely hard to show support from a distance, as I often long for her just to put her arms around me. However, she still supports me by just being there. She lets me vent, offers advice where she sees it may help, and doesn't make me feel crazy, which I often do. She also deals with depression and mostly anxiety, so she can relate, but we are two different people, so what works for her doesn't work for me. We kind of have an unspoken understanding that we listen to each others advice, take what works, and leave what doesn't.

I think that's the best thing you can do. Be a sincere friend, but at the end of the day, your friend has to be the one to take the advice she feels works best for her. Either way, keep being a friend, she probably needs it. But don't let her issues run you down, lest you join her in depression. Always take care of yourself. Hope this is helpful. Wish you and your friend the best.

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Postby whocares_ » Mon Nov 17, 2014 1:10 am

You can recommend your friend to see a therapist or you can give he/she a journal to write out whatever it might be that their dealing with & help them talk thru it a little or you can help the person do deep breathing because deep breathing can help with clearing a person mind there not being focused on anything but yeah...

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Postby LuisSteven » Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:16 am

Hello nephtis,

Unless you’ve experienced a depressive episode yourself, saying that you know how a person with depression feels is not helpful, while your intention is probably to help your loved one feel less alone in their despair, this can cut short your conversation and minimize their experience. You can avoid the above missteps and misunderstandings simply by educating yourself about depression. Once you can understand depression’s symptoms, course and consequences, you can better support your loved one,

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Re: How to care for a depressed friend?

Postby jeesica » Sun Feb 05, 2017 7:52 am

Firstly simply talking to your friend about depression, simply asked the get the help of depressions .first step is Talking face to face your friend help with suffering for depression. She and he how to feeling and you will be ready listen without finding.
then you have support with help of professional, a medical doctor or a mental health provider........

Last edited by jeesica on Fri Feb 10, 2017 4:54 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: How to care for a depressed friend?

Postby CitM » Sun Feb 05, 2017 4:50 pm

I think there is a lot of great advice here. I think the most important thing is to sometimes be consistent in the face of inconsistency, which depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder has a lot of because of mood and clarity of thought variability.

So what I would suggest, is to set up a routine that never gets broken, no matter what. For example, one could be that you always do a skype call at a certain time of the week for x amount of time. I don't want you to be their therapist, but you can more easily gauge where they are at more objectively. Also, no matter what is going on or what has been said, both you and the your friend can RELY on this one routine in their life.

Hope things improve.
With love :)

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