Helping A Depressed Friend
Most of us know someone who is depressed from time to time. The question is, how do we help a depressed friend?
Despair has been my friend more than once, especially in my teen years. Raised in an alcoholic home, shame, hopelessness, and utter depression were my daily companions. Nothing seemed to be going well, except for my music lessons. Dad stayed drunk eighty percent of the time. Mom had to work to pay the bills and be able to send me to college. School presented both academic and social challenges and friends were scarce. I wondered if anyone would ever really accept me.
Then along came Rosemary Banayat. We met when seated on a musty old couch just outside the recital hall at the Saint Louis Institute of Music in Clayton, Missouri. Four aspiring pianists sat and talked about typical teenage issues. Well, three of us did. I just listened because my issues were not about boys or dating. I was all about just survival. So listening to the other three was my contribution to the interaction. Miralces of miracles, Rosemary and I became fast friends and enjoyed frequent sleep overs, trips to Steak and Shake, and many of my grandmother’s tasty sugar doughnuts. She knew about my father’s drinking. Out of the kindness of her heart, she took me under her wing and was one of the few friends I had in high school. After all, who was going to fraternize with a two hundred pound intorverted girl who never paid any attention to the way she looked? Rosemary helped a depressed friend.
Years later, when I confided my long hidded secrets of depression, anxiety, and psychosis, she told me she suspected something was radically wrong. She told herself she would not abandon me. Our relationship was a deep blessing to me. Rosemary gave me what I needed in my depressed state of mind. I would like to pass along her gifts in the hopes that readers will glean some information on how to help friends who are dancing on the brink of abject states of mental illness. Yes, she truly did help a depressed friend.
She consistently lent an open ear. We spent hours talking about various issues. I used to go to her with my family concerns. Things were dificult at home. and Rosemary was always there to listen, to play the piano with me and to talk about intimate issues. She was there to help a depressed friend.
We had tons of fun together. Hours were spent roller skating, reading, playing duets on the piano, shopping, and visiting each other’s families. We did things together on a routine basis. The greatest gift she gave me was that of her time. I felt so blessed to have a friend. Someone actually valued me. Our moms had a relationship also. One of my favorite memories is taking our mothers out for mother’s day. We had this elaborate scheme going and kept our plans a huge secret for a couple of months. The four of us had a wonderful time going out to dinner and to Shaw’s garden in Saint Louis. This is the stuff friendship is made out of. Were it not for Rosemary, I would have had a virtually friendless teen years.
I asked a linkedin connection, Patrick Day ,to contribute his thoughts on how to help a depressed friend. This is what he had to say.
How do you talk to a friend who you feel is depressed?
“First of all, you don’t want to start with, “You seem to be depressed, and I’m wondering if I can be of help to you.” Many friends, even close friends, don’t want to be singled out as being depressed. Here is a suggested opening to put a person in a safe place. “I’d like to have a conversation with you because I care for you and want what is best for you. We have been friends for XX years and have spent much time together (recount some of the good times you have had). I want us to deepen the relationship and trust we have with each other.”
After this opening, it’s time to get into a safe dialogue. “I have a concern that your struggling with something right now. For example, (give examples such as…) you seem more quiet than usual and appear to be less of a social butterfly. You also have talked to me about your having trouble sleeping at night and not having much of an appetite. Just yesterday, we started having a conversation, and before it was completed, you had an anxious look on your face and said you needed to get home.” (You get the picture – real examples, the more specific, the better.)
Now comes handing the ball over to the other person. “Does what I’m saying making sense, or is there something I have said or done to make you feel uncomfortable around me?”
Wait for a response. One response could be denial; if so, don’t push it. Just say something like, “OK, I just wanted to visit with you about my concerns.” Then talk about something else. If the symptoms persist, you could make note of other red flags you have observed and talk to her in about three weeks.
If on the other hand, the person opens up, listen without making suggestions. At the end, ask if there is something you can do to help. In this way, you are not intruding on a very private expression of feelings until you know your friend is desirous of your being her friend and confidant. In future meetings, you may find that she would like suggestions, or you could offer a suggestion in a particular area of her life and see how she responds. Some people just want a listener. Some people desperately want help. And there are infinite possibilities in between.
In all situations, make sure you keep your friend in a comfortable place and not push her into something she may not want to do. Especially, don’t pretend to know how to deal with depression if you don’t have a clue. Being a person who has gone through depression myself, I maintain that only a person who has been depressed knows what it is really like to be depressed. But you can always listen and be a friend. People who are depressed need friends who accept them just as they are.”
Check out Patrick’s website at WWW.triumphoverdepression.org.
Thank you Rosemary and Patrick.
If you have any questions about depression, anxiety, or psychosis, feel free to contact me at AltmanB@sbcglobal.net. or at 314-962-5324
If you are someone you know is suffering from major depression, showing signs of depression, is manic depressive, or is looking for how to deal with depression please subscribe to Barb’s blog. She has advice on such topics as, coping with depression, teen depression, anxiety and depression, depression in children, and other types of depression disorders. You can visit her website at http://www.depressiontorecovery.com/
Her book “Recovering from Depression, Anxiety, and Psychosis is now available on Amazon here.