How to help loved ones with depression
Posted December 25th, 2015 by AlgebraAddict
a/n so I just wrote a long essay on what not to say to depressed friends, and I decided I should write a list of ways to actually help.
a/n2 after creating this list I realized that this is majorly biased towards midde/high school girls helping other middle/high school girls. I apologize, since that's pretty much the extent of my experience on either end of it. If you have any suggestions for the more adult or masculine side of things, please leave a comment below. Peace out.
So the main thing I based this list off of, besides my own experienced as a teenage girl with depression, is the concept of the five love languages: quality time, physical affection, words of encouragement, acts of service, and gifts. According to the theory (which there are a lot of books on, btw), everyone has their own special one or two that make the most difference to them. If one doesn’t work, try another one. My personal big ones are quality time and physical affection (the first two I listed), but everyone’s different. If someone is struggling with depression, they’re going to need a lot of love, and these are just some ideas of how to give it to them.
1. Make the first move. A common misconception depression causes is that if the depressed person stopped reaching out to people, everyone would forget about them. Prove them wrong.
a. Call them. No, don’t text them. I don’t care if you feel awkward on the phone; it’ll only take a couple minutes. Tell them that you were thinking about them and you felt like calling them. It doesn’t have to be related to their depression (“Are you okay???!!! Please tell me!!! Do u want to talk about it???!!!”), in fact, it might be better if it’s not. Not everything you say to them should be about their depression. Talk about crushes, talk about celebrities, talk about the silliest, shallowest things you find interesting. Let them know that you were bored and they were the first person you thought of. Even if it sounds awkward, trust me, it’ll mean a lot. (If they don’t pick up, leave a super cheesy voicemail.)
b. Sit next to them in class. Either save them a spot or deliberately slam your books down next to theirs. Proceed to spend the class interacting with them.
c. Ask them for homework help. For some reason, a lot of depressed teenagers are overachievers in school. It might just make their day if you come to them singing their academic praises and begging them to help you with geometry.
d. If the opposite is true and you know they’re struggling with a certain class,offer to help them out (just try not to be condescending about it).
e. Ask to spend time with them outside of school. If a test is coming up, ask them over to study for it. If you’re close enough, invite them over for a sleepover or a day out of the house on an upcoming weekend. I’m a girl, so my mind immediately jumps to going to the mall, but if you’re a guy and you want to go to the laser tag arena, go for it dude.
f. This might not apply in every scenario, but it’s worth mentioning. When the teacher mentions you’re going to be working in pairs, immediately make eye contact with them and grin like it’s going to make your day to work with them.
g. Just smile at them. If you barely know them and nothing else on this list could possibly apply, just smile at them when you walk by. The littlest things can matter the most sometimes.
2. IF THEY’RE 100% OKAY WITH IT, physically touch them. If they have trauma history or they are otherwise uncomfortable with hugs or physical affection, please be respectful. In fact, you might be the only one who is respectful of their boundaries, and that in itself will mean a lot to them.
a. Hugs. When you’re saying goodbye, when you’re saying hello, or just because you deem that they need an impromptu bear hug at any given moment. If you’re a guy and you find this weird, substitute fistbumps.
b. I mean, though, fistbumps. Or high fives. Whenever they do something awesome, or if they screw up and need encouragement, or even just passing in the halls, let them have it.
c. Play with their hair. Okay, this might not be for the guys. But even if you’re a guy and the person you’re trying to help is a girl, she will find it RIDICULOUSLY SWEETif you attempt to braid her tresses once in a while. Now I have a pixie cut, and it’s hard for anyone else to style my hair, but for me it’s equally as endearing if someone else asks me to do their hair. IF THERE IS ANYONE WITH LONG HAIR INVOLVED IN THIS ENTIRE SCENARIO, MAKE IT WORK. (Note: a lot of girls, for reasons that I will never understand, detest it when people try to screw around with their gorgeous locks that are JUST ASKING TO BE FRENCH BRAIDED LIKE OMG. If this is the case, again, respect their boundaries and find something else to do.)
d. Draw on their skin. Especially if they deal with self-harm (which deserves its own list tbh), drawing a sharpie butterfly on their wrist might have a lot of meaning to them. But even if it doesn’t, a lot of girls would be honored to tote one of your art pieces on their skin for the next few days. (Yeah, this one also kind of mostly applies to teenage girls. Sorry.)
e. One word: FOOTSIE. So the table’s a little cramped and their leg is in your bubble? Go ahead and kick it. Chances are they’ll kick back, and you could be engaged in a small scale war until the teacher tells you two to knock it off.
3. Say nice things. It doesn’t have to be big. Of course, if you want to go all out and tell the how freaking fabulous they are and how much you love them, go ahead.
a. Shallow compliments. Your hair is pretty today. Your shoes are cool. Your face is the absolute bomb. If you’re trying to compliment a guy, you might want to skip to the next suggestion.
b. Deeper compliments. You make me feel happy. You brighten up my day. You’re funny. You’re smart.
c. Be cheesy af. With no shame. Tell them that you’ve never met anyone like them, and that they’re a fantastic friend. Write them sappy poetry—seriously, it doesn’t matter.
d. Offer advice. I don’t want a lot on this list to have to do with trying to fix the depression itself, but there are times when you can be helpful. Offer them advice that doesn’t have to do with putting things in perspective, glasses half full/empty, or starving kids in Africa. Recommend a band with good sad music for crying sessions, or suggest that they take up adult coloring books to help anxiety. Practical advice is the best kind.
e. Let them talk about it. Let them tell you what’s going on. Don’t force anything out of them. If they do open up to you, keep an open mind and try not to panic. Okay, so they’re cutting. What can you do to help them? Ask them that. Tell them that you’re there for them and ask them to call you any time day or night if they need support. The important thing is to listen.
4. Help them out. You don’t need to cut up their food for them, but there’s a lot you can do. Even if you can’t heal their depression, you can at least help fix some of the effects.
a. This was on no. 1, but give them homework help if they need it. If they’re depressed, there’s a good chance their grades are suffering as a result.
b. Clean for them. A lot of people with depression find their lives crumbling apart, and not just figuratively. Their rooms may become a mess, same with their lockers and their notebooks. It’s a pain in the butt, but if you do it together, you can get a lot done.
c. Make them food. This also falls under the giving gifts category, but if they’re too preoccupied staying alive and safe to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, then you can help. Next time you’re at the same house, help them get something healthy and filling to eat. Again, try not to be condescending. If they’re convinced that they’ve got a grip and they don’t need nobody’s interference in what they put in their mouths, leave that to their parents or therapists to work out.
d. Start a project with them. Get them started with an adult coloring book (have I mentioned how freaking therapeutic these things are? Oh my goodness!) or model trains or computer programming or playing guitar or whatever. Just work on something together, especially if it can supply a distraction from suicidal ideation or urges to self-harm when you’re not there.
5. Give them a gift. Not a huge thing, lest you make them feel super awkward. Just cute little presents that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on.
a. Food. Bring them a candy bar one day (if they don’t feel comfortable eating junk food or in front of people, don’t force it on them). Share some of your lunch.
b. Presents. If you see something cute at Barnes and Noble or Walmart for under five dollars, go ahead and get it. Let them know that they don’t need to pay you back; it’s just because you thought they would enjoy it. E.g. a new shade of lipstick, a phone case, some stationary (sorry, I’m trying to think of masculine gifts but failing), a baseball cap, or a potted plant. Or an adult coloring book. B^)
c. Treat them. Take them out to lunch. If you see them admiring some cheap jewelry, buy it for them. Treat the both of you to a manicure (again, trying to think masculine and failing). Avoid giving them straight up cash, as it 1) could be seen as shallow and 2) they could spend it on drugs/alcohol/razors, etc.
The important thing is to make sure they feel loved. When their entire chemistry is feeding them lies about how others think of them, you can take it upon yourself to prove it wrong. If they’re not receptive to your kindnesses, don’t stress it. Sometimes they’ll need space, and giving them space and respect can be just as helpful sometimes as feeding them hugs and gifts and compliments. Just make sure they know you are always there for them. Do your best, because it really is the thought that counts. Remember that it doesn’t always need to be about their depression—letting them feel normal is just fine too.
If you have any thoughts, tips, or suggestions for this list, leave a comment and I might add it. Thanks so much for reading, and I love you all. <3
See more stories by Esther