“A true friend loves at all times…” - Proverbs 17:17
“You’ll be ok!” “Things will get better!” “Do you think you could be overreacting just a little?” These are only a few of the lines that you may think to say when your friend is sharing their mental health issues with you. But what should we really be saying when our friends are facing emotional distress and fears of the future?
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, as the depressed and the cheerleader trying to bring my friend over the hump of depression. When I was the friend with depression, I was certain I was alone and that no one could understand my pain. How can you bring me out of something that you’ve never experienced? My friends did what they knew to do: they kept me busy with work and school, they pretended that they couldn’t see the pain and hurt in my eyes, and they tried to convince me that my pain was not that big of a deal. Were they horrible friends? Not at all.
They were young women who, like me, were unequipped to handle both the weight of my depression and their personal lives.
The torment of depression that many women face is the feeling that your life is much better off than someone else’s, so to be depressed means you are being ungrateful and out of touch with the real world. I carried that torment for the four years that I suffered from depression, and I wondered if that was the reason that people were unable to support me in the way that I thought they should. What did I want from my friends? I wanted attention towards my hurt, and I wanted a way out of it.
As a cheerleader, I’ve discovered the best ways that I can serve my friends in love and support for their freedom from depression. I’ve learned that I can be present as a friend and not become consumed with the pressures that are mounting in their lives. It is never easy to be an anchor for your friends while they expose their pain and struggle, but your presence can be the difference between life or death. If your friend is struggling with depression, here are five ways that you can help your friend overcome it:
Your friend is experiencing a hurt that you may never imagine or relate to, so do your best to display simple, pure love. Give her your heart, not your opinion. Share compassion and empathy. Listen to what her heart is saying.
Be vulnerable to receive her emotions without being absorbed by them.
Many people dealing with depression are overwhelmed by a number of emotional setbacks that have been stacked, ultimately resulting in depression. Consequently, the pressure of what they’re facing can be intense on you as a friend. Before you call/meet up/connect with your friend, clear your mind, do your homework on depression, and breathe deeply, as you’ll need the capacity to manage the relationship with different tools than before.
Don’t try to be a hero, be a friend.
Yes, it’s tough to see your friend suffering without wanting to save them from their demise. But you must remember that you are not responsible for your friend’s decisions. You can help influence the way that they approach life, but you cannot force your friend to make choices. Give your friend the best support you can without making their problems your own. Offer to help your friend locate a counselor, or create special moments of significance that display friendship and communicate love and support. A walk in the park, an “I love you” dinner, or a movie and pampering night are all great ways to do this.
Look for ways to bring joy to her life.
Depression can be the darkest time in a person’s life, often resulting in poor personal hygiene, neglect of their home or personal space, disregard for finances, professional decline, and more. If you’re allowed to be near your friend during their depression, get ready to serve them with your attention to their personal needs. Subtly clean neglected areas, let in a little sunshine, organize the mail, run a bath, cook a meal, or whatever you see as a need that you can support. A boost to her personal environment can very well be the sunshine that she needs!
Overcoming depression takes time and effort. Trust me, your friend doesn’t want to be depressed, but she’s not clear on the steps to overcome. Be as gracious with your friend as you can, understanding that if she’s rushed, she’ll only feel more anxiety and pressure, ultimately bringing on more intense feelings of depression. The process of healing takes time, and your patience will remind your friend that she has people in her life who are there for the long haul.
If you can use any of these tips, you’ll be blessed to experience the greatest years of your friendship once your friend reveals her best self to the world! Trust me, you can weather this, and so can your friendship!
Photos by: Liz Calka