One thing I have been hearing a lot lately is “I don’t know what to do” from those who have never dealt with depression or anxiety, but knows and/or cares about someone that does.
I know it is tough seeing someone you love, or at least close to you, suffering, but you have no idea what to do in the situation.
As my mother tried comforting me during an episode, I could sense that she felt helpless. I can only imagine what it feels like being in that position, a mother who is unable to help her child in that moment. I also talked to a friend who had the same sentiments in regards to one of her close memebers of her family.
I am going to share what can work & what currently works for me. Of course this may not work for everyone, and you have to judge case by case, but hopefully this gives you a bit more insight.
Here we go.
Number one for me is to show that you genuinely care and that you genuinely want to help. This is not about you so things that work for you, especially being a person who has not dealt with these things, more than likely do not apply. Be prepared to be in this for the long haul. If you are not up to the challenge, be honest with yourself and the other person. HONESTY IS KEY HERE! When you, yourself, are open and honest with the person you are dealing with, it sets the foundation for trust, which is major.
9 time out of 10, we know you want to help, but still ask if it is okay to help. No one wants to feel like someone is trying to push their own agenda or take over their lives. By asking, you give us the power over our lives, situation, and circumstance. It is also a show of respect, that you took the time out to ask instead of just projecting. We already feel like we don’t have control over our lives, please do not also make us feel like we have no control over our help.
Be prepared for set backs or even regression. Some days you may take some steps forward, other days you take a couple steps back. Be ready for the tango. It may not be easy for you, but know that it is not easy for the person dealing with mental health issues either.
If someone is really in a depressive bout or if they are having an anxiety attack (also if they are just coming out of it) ration & reason are not up for play right now. Once they are in a neutral state of mind, you can begin trying to figure things out with them. Logic does not exsist in a depressed or anxiety riddled mind. Wait it out. It is very hard for us to think logically right now. I am not sure why that part of our brain is not fully functioning during these times, but it is not. It is like a heavy fog & you asking us for some kind of sense of direction is not happening at this moment.
This sounds crazy, but let them be. Often times, advising or telling them to get out of a current state they are in (although it is probably with your best intentions) makes it worse because it feels like you are invalidating their feelings. Instead of acknowledging their current state, you are brushing it off. Also we do not want to be in that low vibrational state. We do want to be happy, but we feel helpless, although we cannot get out of it. So unless you have a magic pill that can immediately alter our state of mind, I would suggest to let them ride it out (& this does not mean for a prolonged period of time or for someone with moderate to severe suicidal thoughts).
Acknowledge the fact that you see us. That you hear what we are saying. Just LISTEN, without the intend to speak or fix us/things. Sometimes (most times) we do not need advice. We just need someone to actively listen and be there for us, showing us love.
Wait for us to tell you that we need your advice. People tend to give us advice when we do not even ask for it. Most of the advice given is based on the “advisers” own life experience instead of basing it upon the life of the person experiencing a bout. This gets quite frustrating because it goes back to not being seen or heard. It’s like, “why would you tell me that when it doesn’t apply to my life?” If you don’t really know the person you are trying to give advice to…do not give them advice unless you hold ample space for them to FULLY understand their situation.
If you do know the person really well & you do offer advice DO NOT GIVE GENERIC ADVICE THAT WE ALL KNOW. Also don’t say cliche things. If you do not know what to say, simply say, “I don’t know what to say.” That is a perfectly acceptable answer. Silence may be uncomfortable for YOU, but silence is usually quite normal for us and silence is always better than empty words. Often times it is better to be there in silence and just hold space than to babble and say unnecessary things.
Just be there. Most times, all we want is comfort. We want to be held or shown love. We want to know that we matter. We know that something isn’t exactly right with us, but we want you to see US, see us for who we really are beyond all of this mess. We do want it to be affirmed that even though we are going through this thing right now, we are still worthy of all of the above.
When you decide to ask questions, ask at an appropriate time. As a matter of fact, before you even ask the questions, ask if it is alright to ask questions or if it is okay to talk about what is going on. This also sounds silly, but sometimes we are not in the space to give you proper answers & your questioning may just trigger us or make us upset. When asking questions, ask basic questions and not existential life questions. I know for me personally when people ask big questions when I am in a serious bout or right after an anxiety attack its like, “WTF. I don’t know. I can’t even think straight. Why are you even asking me this? Leave me alone. Let me sleep & be by myself. At least I won’t have someone berating me with stupid questions.” Now that is just me, but I am pretty sure most people dealing with depression and anxiety are not in the mood to be interrogated.
Also some people have a hard time opening up, so don’t push or pry too much or else it will have a negative effect. Try to gauge where the person is. Read their body language. Start with open response questions (ie. How are you feeling? What do you need right now? etc.). If that is too much for the person (because some people asking do want big, drawn out answers) ask questions that garner a simple “yes” or “no” response until they open up a bit more. Either way, take your time. Even if it covers the span of a few days, do not be impatient and rush to get answers as to not overwhelm them because it can be too much trying to process your own feelings & thoughts while giving detailed answers to someone’s questions. If a person senses that you are considerate of their feelings, they will more than likely come to you later on or even share more with you.
These depressive/anxious bouts are like waves. So on a day when we are not in an extreme low, this is probably the best time to do work. This is a more appropriate time to implement techniques & methods of help as well as ask questions.
Be genuine when you are asking questions to understand us or the situation. It is okay to want to know what is happening.
If and when a person shares something with you DO NOT JUDGE THEM. Even if it sounds outrageous to you or you cannot seem to understand where this person got their logic, I stress do not judge. I can guarantee if you judge a person after they just opened up their heart during a bout or episode, they probably will never open up to you again or it will take a long time for them to do so again. The point is we want to feel safe. It is almost like a turtle coming out of its shell. If we sense any more danger, we will retreat into the shell of our mind & stay there. If you do not understand, again, state that you do not understand. We will not take offense. It may take a while for us to muster up the energy to fully explain things, but show that you do want to understand.
Do not EVER deflect, rush/push/force your “help”, tell us to get over it/just be happy, invalidate, downplay, force your opinions/ideas, dismiss, tell us we are faking it and/or act like what we are going through is not real. If you do any of the above, it is almost a sure fire way to get us to close ourselves off for you.
The main DO’s are to be patient, pace yourself/take your time, actually listen, be honest, hold space, & know that this is not about you.
Now all of this is said in reference to dealing with someone who is in a moderate state (give or take). This is NOT for someone in a sever state of depression or for someone who is taking the action to inflict harm upon themselves. Of course you would skip all of this and help the person. Feel it out for when some of the things I listed are appropriate. Also, maybe even share this with them. Ask them if this is something that they can relate to and apply in your/their situation.
I really do hope this helps. If there is any other advice that you deem fit, please let me know as I cannot advise every single person from my standpoint and truth.