The fact that you’re searching for ways to help a friend living with depression is marvelous. You’d think that in a world of Dr. Google, everyone would do some research about something that’s center stage in their friends’ lives. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. And even if they did their research, it doesn’t mean that everyone will find the right ways to support their friends and loved ones.
I have dealt with major depression on and off for 12 years now. At times, I received the compassion and support I needed, and other times I did not. Here’s what I wish my friends had known before trying to support me.
1. Depression is an illness
You’ve probably heard this one before — over and over again. I’m not here to explain to you the intricacies of what makes depression an illness, you can find those everywhere. What you need to know is that the reason it’s so difficult for this point to be understood, not only in theory, but in practice, is because of ableism. Society is built for able-bodied and -minded individuals. We are all taught from the earliest of ages to uphold this system of oppression.
2. It affects self-worth
Not only are we dealing with symptoms, and how society is viewing us, but we’re also dealing with a lot of our own frustrations around our new-found disability. In an instant, we no longer have the same value according to society, according to ourselves, and more often than not, according to you.
3. We have been hurt
By others, by friends, by family, and by all kinds of loved ones. And if we haven’t been, we’ve heard of others who have. I wish it was all love, compassion, and support from everyone around us, but that’s rarely the case. We might not trust you to show us these things because of that.
4. We don’t need you to fix us
That’s not your job — that’s ours. It’s that simple.
5. Our safety trumps your support
There’s a lot of good that you can do, but unfortunately, there’s a lot you can do that will be wrong. Times may arise when you’re no longer safe for us, and we need to step away to focus on our well-being.
6. There will be times when none of it might make sense
Welcome to the world of depression. Depression is an illness that has a thousand different faces. You may have certain symptoms one day, and entirely different symptoms the next. It will be confusing and frustrating, to both of us.
7. We might self-sabotage our recovery, and it will frustrate you
Change is terrifying, and one of the most difficult things. If we’ve lived with depression for a long time, then we might subconsciously not be willing to recover.
8. We will learn to live with it
This sounds straightforward, but you need to be prepared to have a friend who openly — and proudly — lives with depression. It’s not that we have given up, it’s not that we’re broken. It’s just that this is a part of us and, for some of us, it doesn’t go away. It’s a part of our reality, and if we choose to accept it, you have to too.
9. We want you to show up
We will give up on support, compassion, and love at different times. But we still desperately want people to be there, because we all need support.
10. The greatest thing you can do for us, is center your own wellness too
There are so many people who will spit out advice to us about making our lives better, but will not implement that advice in their own lives. Modeling behavior is the best way to send us this message, and also reminds us that these tools aren’t just for us, but for everyone.
11. Be honest about your struggle to accept all this
Acknowledge your shortcomings, and learn to change. Very few of us are taught how to actually be supportive to the individuals in our lives living with mental illness. You have a lot to learn. We have a lot to learn. But if we don’t accept this, acknowledge our failures, and change — we will destroy one another.
12. Find support in your own life
Supporting others through their challenges is never easy, and having your own fortified support systems in place is critical to sustaining your support.
There are many other things that you’ll have to learn, and relearn through this journey. Ultimately, your life will never be the same again. But that’s not always a bad thing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out to your doctor for support and treatment options. There are numerous forms of support available to you. Check out our mental health resources page for more help.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the founder and executive director of Life in My Days. He’s an engineer, a world traveler, a peer support specialist, activist, and a novelist. He’s also a mental health and social justice speaker, and specializes in starting difficult conversations in communities. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops, and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.