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I write my own articles about depression and how you can help someone who is depressed. Occasionally though, I will share an article which hits the right notes with me. This is one of those moments.
“Ask Amy” is a Toronto Sun article (August 14, 2018). I liked the question that a reader had about depression.
What can I do to help a depressed friend?
That’s a question many people ask me. It’s a question I try to answer. I strongly believe that keeping your personal space healthy and happy is as important as you helping your depressed friend. In other words, you need to keep yourself emotionally healthy and happy to effectively help someone who is depressed.
So here’s Amy’s answer to that question.
I have a very close friend who is extremely depressed. She is negative about every aspect of her life: marriage, career and self-image. She posts negative memes on Facebook about how ugly she is, how depressed she is and how bad life is.
She is on medication and is seeing a licensed therapist. She is also extremely overweight. None of this is helping. She has tried different meds and has seen different therapists.
Every time I talk to her she is negative, depressed and complains constantly. I want to help her but I don’t know what else I can offer her. We have been close for many years and she has always been depressed, but it’s far worse now than ever.
She has told me numerous times that I don’t fully know what has happened in her past so I will never understand what she is going through, and then she proceeds to put herself down. Her marriage is falling apart and I know she has many issues going on with her career and her life, but is everything really that bad?
What else can I offer besides a listening ear, without getting down myself?
What advice can I give her when she is complaining?
— Out of Answers
I think that offering advice in this context is a nonstarter.
When someone is clearly depressed and so obviously negative, the best thing you can do is to point the person toward therapy and treatment. And so you can respond: “What does your therapist say about that?”
Your friend might respond that she doesn’t disclose a lot of this to her therapist. Many people paradoxically don’t actually disclose the very things that cause them the most pain to their therapists. She might say that she isn’t currently taking her meds. Encourage her to seek and continue to seek treatment.
I believe that posting negative or self-hating thoughts on social media can actually perpetuate a negative cycle, but many people reach out in this way to vent, and in turn receive supportive comments and affirmations, which they must find — otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Try not to judge her harshly for doing this.
A huge challenge for friends and family members in dealing with someone with depression is to be present and supportive, while not taking on the burdens of the depressed person.
The concept of “self-care” is currently in vogue, but many of us don’t really know how to exercise self-care in our own lives. In your case, it might mean learning to ritualize walking outdoors, reading poetry or listening to a favourite piece of music. If you aren’t feeling strong, you can’t be a supportive presence.
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