Over the course of my life, I have had several depressive episodes that left me socially crippled and on the precipice of death, and it was only as an adult that I realized I needed friends to help me through them. As an adult, I understand that depression tells me to shut everyone out to avoid being a burden to them, but to get my mind healthy again, I need to do the opposite.
So, this is where you come in. I’m here, or your friend is here, feeling nothing and enjoying nothing and wanting to crawl in bed and die, and you are here for us, because you said you would be. What do you do? What do you say? What don’t you say?
DO tell us you are here for us as long as it takes.
Once, someone stayed the night in my room for almost a week to make sure I was okay. Let your friend come to you for help, but remind them relentlessly that you are there in any way you are able. When they ask you to help them, please do your best to follow through. When depression hits them, everything inside of them is revolting against the idea of asking you for help, and it takes a tremendous amount of effort for them to do so.
DON’T tell us to be happy.
When I have a depressive episode and someone says that to me, I either get extremely angry or more depressed. Your friend is likely doing everything in their power just to feel something, and if they could even just feel anything, they would. It may seem like a positive thing to say, but it invalidates what your friend is experiencing.
DO tell us that this is only temporary.
When I was a teenager, I had a depressive episode that seemed like it lasted for years (and probably did). One of the best, but most painful, thing someone has ever said to me was, “This, too, shall pass.” Your friend may have an inability to see a personal future, and it brings all of their long-term goals to a halt. They’ll stop working on projects, stop doing the things they enjoy, and stop investing in relationships because they cannot see a future. Remind them that they will not be in an episode forever, and that they will not always feel this way.
DON’T tell us our problems aren’t a big deal.
My most recent episode was triggered by specific events. The episode made the events seem a million times bigger than they actually were, and I was crushed by their weight. Some people told me that I should be over it after four months, as if there was some socially acceptable time frame for which I could deal with the circumstances. Though it is important to note that not every episode will be triggered by circumstances or life events, they can be. If your friend seems to be making a bigger deal out of their problems than you would, tell them that they will get through this, and that you will be with them every moment of it.
DO invite us to hang out with you or a few people we love.
Once, my friend, knowing I would only talk negatively about what was happening in my life, invited me out to go bowling with her. She was an extremely attentive and supportive listener. I will remember that day for my entire life–it was incredibly helpful to get out of my room and to the outside world. Tell your friend exactly who will be there, exactly what you will be doing, and that they are more than welcome to come. Let them know that you would love for them to be there, but that they are free to choose, and you won’t be upset if they don’t decide to come.
DON’T force us to do anything.
When I was a teenager, people could tell that I was depressed, and they would force me to tell them what was wrong. They did this so often, I depended on them pulling it out of me in order to have some kind of connection with someone. It is a toxic behavior of which I am still trying to rid myself. If you think your friend will feel better hanging out with you, don’t pressure them to do so if they decline your offer. If you think your friend is holding something inside, don’t pressure them to tell you if they say they don’t want to talk about it. Just tell them you understand, and they can always come to you if they change their mind.
DO let us know you love us.
When I was thirteen, I came extremely close to attempting suicide. Since then, I have had suicidal thoughts, but I have never acted in any way on them. This is because I was told that, after my near attempt, one of my family members broke down crying at work. Your friend, more than anything, needs to know that they are important to you, and that they add value to your life. Your friend needs to know that they are not a burden–that they are a uniquely complex individual with a brain wired wonderfully different than everyone else, and you are lucky to have them in your life, because you are.
We love you, friends. We love you, even though we may not be able to show it, even though we may be caught up in our own selves, even though we may never be able to express fully how much we appreciate your friendship. Thank you, from the depths of our hearts.