The truth is, sometimes it’s hard to be a good friend to someone who has depression. You probably didn’t know that they had depression when you started to love them, and now you’re not sure how to love them while taking care of yourself. What do they need? What do you need? Maybe you don’t know how to help them, maybe you feel like you can’t express your own sadness when you’re around them or maybe your feelings get hurt by things they do that you just can’t seem to understand. All of these are challenging emotions to combat, especially when you don’t know how to ask your friend directly for advice on how to be there for them without risking your own mental health. I mean, it would most likely make matters worse if a conversation started with something like this: “Hey, I love you and all, but I don’t know how I can be happy and make you feel better and be friends all at the same time. Do you think this could work? Are you always going to be depressed?”
I have depression, and although this dialogue has never happened to me, I have imagined it playing out many times in my head when my thoughts are spiraling out of control, as they do right before I think that everybody is going to abandon me. I get to thinking that it must be really hard for some of my friends to want to stick around, because my moods can fluctuate at inconsistent paces and directly involve them when they are not supposed to be directly involved. This means that the reasons behind the sadness are not a result of them, but I make them feel like they are because the process of isolating myself without notice gets them involved. I have had many close friends, some of whom are still in my life and some of whom I have pushed away as a result of this mental illness.
This has got me thinking about the challenges faced by friends in my life. It’s a struggle I can’t understand. It’s a struggle for them to try to stay close to you when your brain chemistry is challenging the history and future of your relationship. Nonetheless, it is a struggle I am trying to understand. I want to help those people who want to be in my life with a few quick tips that work for me, and I want to help others in similar situations, if applicable. Here are some quick tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and with your friend(s) while they are combating depression.
- Don’t take it personally.
Sometimes when your friend is sad, it feels like they are sad as a result of you or mad at you. This could be the case if they are pushing you away and they haven’t verbalized why they are doing what they are doing or what exactly they are feeling. All you know is that they have depression, and now they aren’t talking to you. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard to shrug off being ignored by someone whom you are close to, but read up on depression, look into the isolating behaviors some people have and remind yourself that it isn’t your fault. You did not do anything wrong. You are a good friend.
- It is only about you if the action involved you in an upsetting way.
If you can think of a recent fight, disagreement or something you did wrong with your friend, then the reason they are sad could be because of this situation. In that case, it’s just like any other friendship in which people mess up and one or both parties get hurt. Talk about it. If they don’t want to talk, give them some space and then talk about it. It could be because of you, but it is most likely nothing that can’t be fixed. In other cases, they could be taking out their anger or sadness on you, but you are not a part of the deeper challenge they are facing. Communication is always healthier than letting things sit for too long and then ending a friendship over an uncared-for residue of feelings.
- When they aren’t opening up, maybe they want you to ask once. If they still aren’t opening up, go away.
My BFF Shadeh does this perfectly. She will ask me if I’m okay when I’m sad. I usually grudgingly say “Yeah, I’m fine” and then retreat into solitary confinement of some kind. When I’m coming off as angry, she gives me space. Once I have alone time, I calm down and then spill out my feelings. This may or may not be the best advice for you, but it is worth a try. You’ll learn what your friend needs.
- Check in via text message while you are giving them space.
Your friend may get lonely while they are secluding themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they feel like they can or want to be around people. A random text message of love could make them feel happier and give them the socialization aspect they need without making them exhaust themselves or feel like a burden of company to others.
- Offer to do their favorite thing with them later that same day.
After a couple of hours of giving them space and texting them, maybe they just want to do that thing they love with you, the person they love most at the end of the day. Offer to do it if you’re feeling up to it! If not, listen to your own needs. You are human and deserve that always.
- If they cry, it’s not the end of the world. They could be feeling better.
Crying is not a sign of weakness, nor is it necessarily a sign of pain. It is an expressive form of art, and though it may come from sadness, it can bring a lot of relief afterwards. After a good cry, I usually feel loads better. Everything inside of me has come out, and there’s nothing left to express. Don’t be scared if you see tears. Ask them if they want a hug. If crying really freaks you out, then remove yourself from the situation delicately.
- If you are uncomfortable when they open up about sadness, try not to show it right away. Tell them sensitively how you are feeling.
Not everyone has the same capacity for emotions, or even really likes them. If you don’t like hearing about that stuff, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Just beware of your body language when they are opening up in a vulnerable state, and if you can’t handle hearing about it, tell them nicely. Offer help in other ways, but be true to yourself and to your friend. Always be yourself!
- Walk them to therapy and offer to stay with them in therapy.
Therapy can be nerve-wracking, but it is less scary if you’re being walked there by someone you love, and it may even help if that person is sitting right next to you the first time. If you are open to this, offer this aid! It could make the difference between them seeking help or refusing it.
- Tell them to go outside when they are sad.
Going outside can be therapeutic and fun! Suggest this — it could turn the day around :).
- Don’t always make a big deal out of their sadness.
Their sadness is probably common, and it comes and goes in waves. It’s so kind to be concerned and to express this love and worry, but at the same time, if you do this every time they were sad, you will exhaust both yourself and your friend. It’s good to make a big deal out of something serious, but do not express excessive anxiety at all times and all mood shifts. It could make you both uneasy.
- When their life is being threatened, take it seriously.
My friend Shadeh, the one I referred to earlier, has heard me talk about my suicidal tendencies and attempts a lot. The last time I told her I was suicidal was this summer, after a night during which I wanted to O.D. She turned to me, slapped my arm and said “Leila, don’t you EVER DO THAT.” It was playful and cute and serious all at the same time, and exactly what I needed. I smiled, and I thought to myself that I could never do it. She made it seem so silly, but in a really sensitive and cool way that related to me. That being said, you need to take it seriously if this is happening to your friend. Ask them if they have a plan, offer help and tell them how much you love them and appreciate them. I’m not sure if these things will help, but maybe you’ll find a different style they will like better, like what Shadeh did with me!
- If you are being treated like shit, there is no reason to stick around. Do not feel obligated to be their friend.
No matter what someone is dealing with, it is not worth being treated poorly most of the time, even at all. Everyone has struggles they are working on, so depression is no reason your friend should be treating you or can treat you like shit. You know your limits — listen to them and know what you deserve, which is love! If your friend makes a mistake, apologizes and works on fixing it, then see how that makes you feel, but if it is a repetitive behavior that is adding negativity to your life, then you definitely don’t need that. Never feel like you are obligated to be their friend. This is hard if you feel responsible for their life or their happiness, but remember that you need to take care of yourself. Reach out to a professional if you are trying to get away from a toxic friendship with someone whom you feel depends on you too much.
- Check in with yourself always.
There is no better thing you deserve than to always listen to your intuition, your heart, and your boundaries. Make sure you are living in this friendship how you want to live. There is no reason you can’t change a situation that doesn’t make you happy.
Thank you for being a friend and for taking the time to read this. I hope that some of these tips are applicable, and if not, I hope you find your own tips along the way. I appreciate all who help their friends with depression, who do not judge and who love freely. You are wonderful.