“I want to help, but I don’t know how.”
You know that sinking feeling in your stomach when you learn that one of your friends or family members is experiencing depression or even suicidal thoughts? You want to help — to say something or do something that will give them hope and make things better. But you don’t want to annoy them with empty cliches or quotes.
I have some good news for you. The fact that your friend has shared this information with you – whether directly in a conversation or text, or indirectly by over-sharing on social media – is a clue that they want help. But still the question remains, how?
Below are 5 ways to help someone you love who is struggling with depression.
- Talk to them. And when I say talk, I really mean listen. You may have to be the one to initiate the conversation though. A couple safe conversation-starters would be, “I have been feeling concerned about you lately” or “I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.” The objective is to get them talking. What your friend needs right now most of all is to feel heard and understood. Right now, your best response is going to be in the form of a question, instead of advice. Again, what they need most right now is to feel heard and understood, so asking questions gives them more opportunity to express themselves and “get it out”. It is also helpful to use “what I think I hear you saying is…” statements, and tell them what you believe they are trying to communicate to you. This affirms to them that someone hears them, and that you aren’t distracted.
- Avoid judgement. As you talk with your friend, avoid comparing your friend’s circumstances to others who “have it worse”. When asking questions, make sure that your intention isn’t to make them feel shame for wanting to give up. Your loved one already feels awful. Heaping guilt on top of that is not going to help them feel soothed, understood, or welcome to tell you more. Comparing them to others who cope better may only worsen their self-condemnation.
- Ask how you can help. You know that they likely want some form of help, because they shared their struggle with you. But only they know how you can best help them. After you’ve given them plenty of time to talk and share what’s on their heart, instead of offering specific solutions, ask “What is the one thing I can do that will help you the most right now?” Then listen, again. Once you clearly understand what they need from you as a friend right now, tell them what you are able to do, and be specific.
- Do what you say you will do. Be mindful and present, and show them that you are a friend they can rely on in tough times; an ally.
- Sincerely affirm that better days lie ahead. As long as you focus mostly on giving your friend plenty of time to talk and be heard, you can also follow that conversation up with sincere statements to deliver hope. Here are a few good reassurances your friend could use right now:
- “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
- “You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
- “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
- “Do me a favor? When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.”
On behalf of all those who are hurting and struggling in life right now, I thank you for being the kind of friend who cares. I believe you reap what you sow, and I believe good will come to you because of the demonstrations of love you are showing your hurting friend.
Lastly, if ever things do get desperate, please ask your friend to call the free suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are the struggling friend right now, you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and keep our lives on track.
This is precisely why I launched my coaching practice, Feel Free to Grow. If you’re struggling, I am here to help. From regular blog posts focusing on inspirational advice and practical tips for life, love and more, to positive affirmations, and even personal, one on one life coaching…if you need me, I am here. Visit www.feelfreetogrow.com today!