Being our friend is both easier and harder than most people think.
Whenever I write, it’s coming from the perspective of the person who is mentally ill and fighting depression. And usually alone. I have never had a stellar support system, and as an adult, I’ve really struggled to make long-lasting or true friends.
That said, people have asked me what a friend and loved one can do for another person in the midst of depression. Everybody is different, and every instance of depression individual, but I’d say this is the best place to start.
You have to BE a true friend.
People with depression have a radar for BS, and many are just waiting to discover that you, a so-called friend is anything but true. Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t offer to do things you can’t do with a cheerful heart. And please quit waiting for us to change. We don’t want to be depressed, and you aren’t going to fix us.
Please be patient. We all need a friend who will sit there with us and let us go through our struggles, simply reminding us we aren’t alone. Nobody is going to be a perfect friend — not you, not us, not anyone. But that’s okay. Just try not to get our hopes up by promising a level of friendship you cannot deliver.
Don’t take it personally — it’s not about you.
If we’re withdrawing from the activities we used to love, or we’re avoiding social settings, you have to ignore the impulse to see it as a slight against you. Please don’t feel bad, and don’t complain how we don’t believe you and won’t take you at your word when you say you care. Depression makes it hard to believe in anything good. Even you.
When you really care about someone with depression, you might feel like you have to prove yourself to them. To a certain extent I think you do. We may have already lost friends to depression. People who just walked away. We want to know that when you say we can talk to you about anything, it’s true — because most of us all know someone who said it simply because it’s what they thought they were supposed to say. Not because they actually meant it.
Chill out about finding the perfect words.
Maybe you’ll say something so meaningful it helps your loved one feel better, but probably not. Words are generally not enough for anyone battling depression because we need action. Worry more about simply showing up and speaking in love when you do say anything.
What do we really want to hear anyway? Words like, you aren’t going anywhere. Or there’s nothing we could do to make you leave. Anything that tells us you don’t look down on us, and that we don’t need to be ashamed. Anything you mean and can actually back up with your actions. Even if that means you have to tell us that you don’t know what we’re going through but you want to be there.
Leave your expectations at the door.
I know it’s tempting to feel like your efforts to love a person with depression are something so remarkable that the person should be more grateful. Like they should accept your kindness and react a certain way. Such expectations aren’t fair for anyone. We already feel broken, we already feel sad. The last thing we need is more pressure about disappointing a friend.
Expectations make it so hard for anyone to be real. And you’ve got to keep in mind that depression is an illness — not some character defect. Not a moral failing. So you can’t expect depression to behave any certain way or play by your rules.
Is anyone really worth all of this trouble?
Maybe you’re reading this and wondering what’s the point. Loving someone with depression isn’t easy because you do have to let go of your expectations for the other person and be the friend they need — not the friend you think they should need. But if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s how we all ought to love anyone.
True friendship or true love is simple and complex. It’s a relationship where both parties need to be genuine. Yes, depression puts a strain on these relationships, but anything truly worthwhile in life requires great effort anyway.
Are we worth the effort? I believe so. People battling mental illness like depression can make much better friends than you might think — because we’ve been through it all and know exactly how valuable real love is.
So the next time you’re tasked with this opportunity to love another person battling depression, please don’t walk away. You’ve got more power to do good than you might think.