Advice For Friends
My name is Tia, and I have depression. This weekly column will discuss the little bumps in the road, the lows, the highs, and the mundane existence of living with depression. ‘Insane in the Membrane’ will not pretend to have all, if any, answers to mental health. But it will use real situations that I have experienced in the attempt to chip away at the stigma of mental illness. Or, at least, the stigma that I see.
A few people have approached me asking for advice on how to help their friends who have depression. As much as I want to help, I don’t have any all-knowing answers. Each situation is different and challenging in its own way. That’s the problem with depression; it’s difficult to know how to handle. There’s no one guide book. But from my experience there are a few things you should try and avoid.
- Being vulnerable with anyone is hard. Let them tell you in their own time, don’t force them or bring it up before they’re ready.
- I think pity is condescending.
Avoid empty empathy
- You don’t have to empathise to sympathise. If someone close is opening up to you, let them be vulnerable.
- Avoid “I feel you”, “I understand”, or offering solutions. Sometimes explanations aren’t necessary. Sometimes just being heard is enough.
- Mental illness isn’t always easy to talk about. It can be delicate. Even if you’re not sure about what’s being said, try to save your reservations for another time. Perspective is important.
Avoid brushing it off
- If someone is confiding in you, no matter how strange is may seem to you, these are emotions that are real to them. Try to be open-minded.
- Avoid “toughen up” and “it’ll be fine soon”, the former is disrespectful of their condition, the latter is uninformed.
- They need comfort, not comparison.
- Avoid phrases like, ‘I have a friend like this’, it may seem as if you are undermining the individuality of their illness.
It is easy to feel a cascade of emotions when faced with a friend suffering from depression. Frustration, helplessness, anger, guilt, sadness, the list goes on. Depression does have a ripple effect. It can affect everyone closest to the sufferer. Friends and family need to make sure that they take care of themselves first and foremost. Yes, your close one is in pain. Yes, it can be unbearable and you’d do anything to help them. But you won’t be able to help them if you are low yourself.
Send me an email with your ideas, opinions, or queries at firstname.lastname@example.org <3
Giving advice isn’t easy, especially when you don’t fully know what it’s all about. The NHS and National Institute of Mental Health offer scientific evidence regarding mental illness, why and what it is, and how it can manifest. Beyond Blue gives helpful advice on the causes of depression, and HelpGuide gives tips on how to actively help those close to you and how to spot it.
Mental health always needs more support, socially and fiscally. Mind, Heads Together and Rethink offer easy ways to get involved/fundraise/donate/campaign. The Arch2Arch run, London Marathon and Tough Mudder can all be done in the name of mental health. Or, if you’re like me and not a natural athlete, you can use easy ways to recycle to raise awareness and donations alike. Petitions like Time to Change and the Survey of Mental Illness in the Workplace are a click away from de-stigmatising mental illness.
Sofa Activism is easy ways to give, and possibly the easiest of them is Savoo Search, just use it as your default search engine and it’ll donate 1p every time you search something to the charity of your choice (I would recommend through Rethink)
SAMH and Action Mental Health are aimed at Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, targeting mental health stigma on a more regional scale. Mind Cymru and Mental Health Wales focus on Welsh Mental Health.