Being There: How to Lend a Hand During a Loved One’s Depression

Being there for friends and family as they struggle with depression can be challenging, especially if you’ve never experienced the illness yourself. When you lack a first-person perspective on depression’s symptoms and behaviors, lending a shoulder can be equal parts confusing, frustrating, and — as much as we don’t want to admit it to ourselves — off-putting.

I know, because I’ve run the gamut of anxiety- and depression-related issues over the years. I’ve also been in the position of watching friends try their hardest to help me out.

They didn’t always succeed, but it wasn’t their fault. Sometimes, a legion of professionals and friends can’t make it better, at least not at first. I’d never fault my loved ones for trying, but I’ve definitely watched them struggle with my struggles. It’s hard not to be frustrated with someone who by all accounts has it “easy,” yet still can’t seem to snap out of it.

Understanding and Forgiving

In my experience, it’s actually those last four words (“snap out of it”) that cause the most trouble when helping a depressed loved one. Whether they come from frustration, a desire to help, or both, telling a depressed person to “buck up” is like telling a person with an ankle sprain to “walk it off.” The best thing you can give a person dealing with depression is understanding, and it doesn’t cost a thing in terms of cash or effort.

Also, don’t take things personally. I’ve said things I was horribly embarrassed about days later, skipped out on important social events without an excuse, and basically acted like a jerk. And while I feel I have a lot of apologizing to do now that I’m feeling better, my friends and loved ones have made it clear multiple times that I don’t. It’s a refreshing feeling, because I know they mean it.

Being There

If depression is a disease that builds walls between people, being there for depressed loved ones is all about breaking those walls down. The secret is to do it with a chisel, not a sledgehammer.

Know the person you’re helping. Know how to read them. Sometimes, basic social interaction can be an insurmountable task for someone dealing with depression. While reaching out is a crucial part of helping, giving them space to respond at their own pace is just as important. To put it another way, being there isn’t just about providing a presence. It’s about letting your loved one know you’re there all the time, whenever they need you.

Of course, you’ll want to set boundaries so you don’t run yourself ragged in the process of lending a shoulder. If you have the energy and the inclination, though, being understanding and willing to help are the two biggest tools you have in battling a loved one’s depression. If they don’t seem like they appreciate it now, they certainly will when they’re feeling better.

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