When a friend has the blues: How you can help
If you have a friend who is suffering, perhaps you can be a wonderful partner and guide.
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“The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk.”
Sometimes you can see it in her face, sometimes it's because you haven’t seen her face in a while, and other times it is because she has faced her fears and actually told you: Your friend is suffering from depression.
Depression is a frightening thing, and a thing it is. Winston Churchill described his depression as a black dog come to hover around him. It is a maddening disease because there are no physical ailments to mend, no wounds to bandage, no fevers to break. Those plagued are left to wait for the storm to pass, or for the persistent haziness to clear even a little so that colors can reappear, for just a moment sometimes.
And it is maddening for the friends of the depressed because, well, there isn’t anything wrong, now is there?
But for the sensitive and intuitive friend, there are things that you can do to help a friend who is currently battling depression.
If you suspect that a friend is depressed, one of the greatest things you can do for her is to educate yourself about the disease.
Depression is an illness of the brain and is caused by many factors, some biological or genetic, some psychological, and some environmental. Although certainly not an exhaustive list, symptoms of depression include feeling sad, hopeless or angry; losing interest in normal activities; having disturbed sleep and experiencing overall lower energy levels.
Depression is, unfortunately, rather common, with nearly seven percent of Americans experiencing a major depressive episode each year, the majority of which are women, who are 70 percent more likely than men to suffer a bout during their lifetimes.
Although the stigma surrounding depression would say otherwise, depression isn’t a problem of mere laziness or pessimism, or found only in those prone to dramatics. In fact, many, many of history’s most accomplished folks, including Lincoln, Churchill and Beethoven, battled the illness.
One of the most prevalent signs of depression is isolation. The depressed person doesn’t feel well, and isn’t currently finding much joy in life. When depression sets in, spending time alone on the couch is preferable to spending time at lunch (or any other social gathering) with friends. This is because the couch doesn’t ask how you are or what you’ve been up to, and therefore you don’t have to lie to and be embarrassed with your couch. It doesn’t care that you aren’t fine, and haven’t been up to, really, anything.
So if your friend has fallen of the social scene, then she may simply be very busy with other activities, or she may be feeling a bit melancholy. Take note of a gradual disappearing act, check in with her and check in often to see if all is well, or not.
Asking someone how they are feeling doesn’t open the door to a conversation about depression. Rather, conversations about depression happen in fragments, and then torrents. It is the patient friend who can listen for these whispers and simply allow the dialogue to occur.
People who are depressed don’t want to be so and would love the opportunity to tell a confident what they are experiencing. But shame and embarrassment due to the stigma associated with depression often prevents these types of conversations from happening.
It isn’t just any friend who can coax a depressed person to speak about their current emotional state. It is a gentle, non-judgmental friend, perhaps even a friend who has experienced a bout herself, who can serve as a confident to a depressed friend.
But there are sparks of optimism within these periods, and this is why consistent contact from a friend is so helpful. Because you just may catch them on a day that they feel like picking up the phone, or going for a walk, or eating a meal, or talking to you about their depression.
If, when in the bouts of depression, even brushing your teeth is seem as an unworthy chore, you can be sure that the task of searching for a reputable doctor who specializes in and is on the top of her or his game when it comes to treating or managing depression doesn’t even make it onto the weekly do-to list.
This is where a generous friend can be extremely helpful. Finding resources, making appointments and even going with a friend to said appointment.
Sounds intrusive? It isn’t. It is wonderful.
For one thing, it actually gets the depressed friend to a doctor and on a treatment plan, which can be a path to successfully abating the illness. But maybe more importantly, it lets your friend know, unequivocally, that they are not alone in this fight. They might feel alone, they might swear that they are completely and utterly alone, but by this act of getting involved in the battle you are making a clear statement that they are not alone.
Think of it this way, if your friend had any other debilitating illness, would you make her dinners, would you call and visit regularly, would you mind, even for a second, tagging along for a doctor’s appointment? Knowing that depression can be as fatal as a diagnosis of cancer or any other disease, a special friend will put resources to helping her suffering friend.
There are pathways out of depression, and with the help of a sincere, trusting, and gentle friend, may of us who suffer from “the blues” can find that trail. If you have a friend who is suffering, perhaps you can be a wonderful partner and guide.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255