Once again, the winter holiday season is upon us. This is a time of year with many gatherings of friends, co-workers, and family. At one of these gatherings, someone who you care about shares that they suffer from depression. You want to be supportive, but don’t want to say or do anything to make matters worse.
Below are 6 DOs and DON’Ts for handling this delicate matter.
Offer support, but only if you are willing and able to follow through. Quite often, well-meaning folks offer support in a time of need – “Call me if you need to talk” or ”Let me know if I can do anything.”Then, when the call for support comes, all we have to offer is excuses for why we aren’t able to help at the moment. It may be beneficial to offer specific assistance, like providing a night of childcare, cooking a meal, or coffee and talk. Most importantly, ask how you may help.
Share about your own struggles, if you have some. Depression often involves isolating from others. Add to this the stigma that mental illness still carries and you get a person who may think he or she is the only one in this room with a problem. Sharing struggles sends a message of empathy (I get it, because I’ve got my own issues), which is different from sympathy (I feel sorry for you).
Encourage counselling, if they are not already seeing a therapist. Sometimes people avoid seeking professional help for fear that that means they are “really crazy.” Gently ask if they are meeting with a professional, and then encourage them to do so if not. If you have seen a therapist, this could be part of your story sharing, as this normalizes going to therapy.
Tell them everything will be ok, or that they’ll get past it—unless you know their history and have seen their ups and downs. A bout of depression can last for several weeks or months, and some people’s“norm” is to always be at least slightly depressed, so this well-intended phrase may end up being offensive or cause the person to feel like a failure because nothing seems to ever be ok and they haven’t gotten past it in a long time.
Ask if they are taking their meds when you notice their low mood. It is a common complaint among people with a mental condition that others seem to think their well-being boils down to taking medication. Periodic depressive episodes are common, even while taking medication.
Join them in negative talk. Depression colors the world as dark and dreary, which comes with a tendency towards negative thinking and talk. So your friend may want to bemoan the world, her life, her relationships, work, etc. – knowing that he or she suffers from depression, you might help by steering conversations to more jovial topics, though not in a fake or forced effort to “cheer them up.”
All of this may seem like it requires a delicate balancing act. Just remember to be genuine. The person does not need to be treated like a fragile object. Just avoid the usual brush-offs and minimization. Simple kindness and genuine concern can go a long way.