Check in on your friends.
If you’re concerned that a friend may be in a low place, talk to them about it. Ask them how they’re doing. Don’t wait for that friend to reach out to you. It may never happen. Speaking from personal experience, it is incredibly difficult to bring yourself to ask for help when struggling with depression. It took me 7 years to do it, and even then, it was far and away the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Make that step easier on your friend by providing them with safe and comfortable openings for difficult dialogue.
There is no guarantee that this effort will result in your friend opening up right away. Personally, were someone to broach the subject with me when I was at such a low, I have no doubt that I would have initially responded with denial and deflection. That’s OK. Don’t allow conversational resistance or push-back to deter you from expressing your concerns in the future. Persistence should not be sacrificed for the sake of avoiding potential annoyance. Your efforts will make a positive impact, no matter how hard it may be to perceive.
Provide support and reassurance.
Depression does a great job of convincing oneself that nobody else cares. Don’t allow your friend to fall into this illusion of isolation. Make your presence and care impossible to ignore by being compassionately and consistently there for them.
Depression also has a knack for stripping an individual of their sense of self. Don’t let your friend lose sight of the beautiful qualities that stick out so prominently to yourself and others. Remind them that they’re loved, but not only that, remind them why they’re loved.
Every day with depression is an internal battle. To gain ground in that battle:
- One’s conviction of outside love and support from friends and family must be stronger than the destructive delusions of solitude that depression promotes.
- One’s awareness of and belief in the positive characteristics that exist within must be stronger than the feelings of worthlessness that depression deceives one into believing.
It isn’t a battle that can be won overnight, and in fact, it never truly ends. There are still days that I’m on the losing end of it and buy into the lies that depression feeds me. It’s a process, but as a friend, you have the power to act as a catalyst to get your friend to a position where most days are wins.
Quit walking on eggshells.
Asking your friend how they’re doing is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough on its own. Be prepared to listen without judgment. It may be an uncomfortable subject for you, but realize that it’s infinitely more uncomfortable for the person actually going through it to talk about.
Since making a promise to myself in January, I have made a point to talk openly and unabashedly about my struggles with mental illness. I bring it up in conversation with friends, both in casual and serious context. Friends listen to me, and I have no doubts about their care for my well-being, but their discomfort with the discourse is as clear as day. The reaction anytime I mention the word ‘suicide’, in any capacity, is how I imagine Harry Potter would feel after shouting “VOLDEMORT!” into a megaphone. Luckily I’m in a place where I’m not seeking comfort from these conversations, simply trying to erase the stigma. But what if that weren’t the case? Part of my whole M.O. at my lowest points was not wanting to be a burden on anyone. The hesitancy and uneasiness unmistakably displayed in both body language and dialogue whenever I broach the topic would surely be enough to scare me away from opening up in a time of need. Though it may be well-intentioned, this behavior is very much complicit in the continuation of the stigma associated with mental illness.
It’s important that, as a friend, you make a serious effort to speak directly and to listen unflinchingly. Show concern without exuding judgment. People don’t want to be felt sorry for, so don’t react with expressions of shock or sympathy. Listen intently. Maintain eye contact and display inviting body language. Provide patient and understanding encouragement whenever your friend struggles to get through a certain part of the conversation.
Whatever it takes to get you to this level of comfortability with this subject, you need to be doing. I am more than happy to help in any way I can. If reading this post isn’t enough, I’m willing to chat with you on the phone or in person. I will go into full detail about my absolute lowest points. I will give an Oscar-worthy acting performance playing the role of your friend in need. I will simply sit 3 feet away while we repeat the word ‘suicide’ back and forth for an hour. Whatever it takes. You owe it to your friends to be well-prepared for that conversation should it ever arise.