Talking about depression can be easy, if you follow these six steps to helping someone open up.
Starting the conversation about mental health can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Someone struggling may need the smallest gesture to pull them through. You have the tools to save someone’s life, even if you don’t realise it. It’s normal to feel a bit tongue-tied. On one hand, you want to comfort them, but you don’t want to say anything to make the situation worse.
Here are a few things that you can do to help someone in your life.
Ask someone how they’re doing
Simple right? If you have an inkling something isn’t right, really ask them if they’re ok, like you mean it. Like you’re not hoping and wishing for a simple “I’m fine”. Make the conversation about you, rather than putting the pressure on how they’re feeling. Statements you can make include;
“I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit down lately, I’m wondering if you might be depressed?”
“I can see you’ve been having a difficult time, what’s it been like for you?”
Ring or message
If you haven’t heard from someone from a while and you’re concerned, they could be struggling and have isolated themselves. Knowing that someone is thinking of them could help them start talking.
So they’ve started talking to you, what do you do now? Listen attentively. Repeat back key phrases and sum up what they’ve told you in your own words. It will show that you’ve heard and understood. You’ll need to pay attention to what the other person is saying, keeping in mind that what we hear is often filtered by our past experiences, beliefs, and personal values. It’s important to simply accept what you’re being told, even if it’s different from your own thoughts or feelings.
Maybe you or someone else in your life has gone through a difficult time? Share that experience so they feel less alone. Sharing experiences may shed light on problems they hadn’t noticed were there, or having begin to deal with.
What can you do to help practically?
Maybe they want someone to go with them to a doctor’s appointment. Maybe they need help cleaning their place or help to make a meal. The illness makes even the most mundane tasks seem insurmountable at times. For some people living with depression, there may be times when getting out of bed to go to work or school is something they just can’t accomplish. This doesn’t mean they’re weak, but a sign of how draining depression can be.
You don’t need to fix them
Someone feeling like they’re in a desperate place doesn’t need to be told to “take a bath”, “go for a run”, or “drink some chamomile tea”. We as human beings want to fix problems and sometimes we can’t fix them completely. If you’re not a medical professional then being there, talking to them and listening are the best things you can do. If they haven’t seen a doctor or a therapist for their depression, it may be too much for them to pick up the phone to make an appointment to be assessed. Offer to contact their doctor or find a therapist and make an appointment. If you can, offer to take them to the appointment.
If they have suicidal thoughts
Don’t be afraid to talk about suicidal thoughts. It’s important to find out if they are feeling suicidal or they have thought of a plan for suicide. If they respond by saying that they have chosen a method, place, and/or a time or day, then that’s a different situation. Someone who has a plan needs to be assessed by a professional right away. You can encourage them to ring their mental health team if they have one, make a doctor’s appointment, or go to the hospital. There are also a number of helplines they can ring if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
It can also be draining to be there for someone struggling, so it’s important to look after yourself so you can be there for them.