How to Help the Strong Friend: Helping Someone Close to You With Depression and Anxiety

How to Help the Strong Friend: Helping Someone Close to You With Depression and Anxiety
 

Everybody has been going around saying "check on your strong friend,” but do you have a game plan once they hear the “strong friend” is not doing okay. Here are a few things you can do when your friend may be depressed and going through. 

Listen.

I’ve noticed something strange with human beings. They're self-involved. Not all. But a quite a few.  I’ve noticed that some people really don’t listen to those around them. Kanye ranted at every show before he canceled and checked himself in, Kanye showed us signs.  Amy could barely perform from being so inebriated, Amy showed us signs as well. When people are going through, they tell you, or they at least try to. I know I saw Kanye as superhuman, but I wonder how many convos did Kanye have with Kim showing signs before he was finally checked into a hospital. I wonder who was listening to Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade. Have we stopped to listen? Have we stopped talking about ourselves long enough to hear that the strong friend is really no stronger than you and may be going through something too?

Did you hear what they said? Did you brush it off? Did you start talking about yourself? (This is a pet peeve of mine, but I notice it a lot in people.) Are you treating your friend like a trash can? Do you only call them when you want to vent and rant with your mess? Or is the relationship mutual and your friend can vent to you too?

Don’t be that friend that calls once a week with drama and then when it’s their turn to vent to you your best response is “That’s crazy.”  

Be present.

My father died almost 10 years ago and to this day Father’s Day is very hard, and seeing everyone with their dads on my timeline, social media did not make it any easier.  
This year seemed harder than any other Father’s Day I could remember but out of ALL the friends and family I have, one that I recently made in the past few months sent a text that read “Hey, I don't know if you’re doing anything today, but I just wanted to check on you.”

Nobody has EVER checked on me during Father’s Day. I get it people have their own lives, and they don’t have to, but that meant the world to me. 

A lot of times, people who are depressed don’t want to burden someone else with their troubles. But it’s important to let them know that you care and you’re willing to be part of the solution. As a friend, your job isn’t to fix them or be their therapist, but to be there.


Help them Counteract Social Isolation

When I’m depressed, I can be cranky just so others will leave me alone. I want to hide under my cover and isolate myself with iTunes, but this is the opposite of what people really need. Isolating yourself from others amplifies the brain's stress response. Social contact helps put the brakes on it. 

I appreciate friends that ignore my crankiness and can recognize what’s going on. I legit had an anxiety attack planning this upcoming event. I told my friend “I’m not in the mood for anything.” Implying I’m not with the shit, Ion wanna talk, and you can leave. She didn't. She stayed. Helped me talk things out and I am forever grateful for that. 

How can you help your friends who try to isolate themselves? Instead of asking, “Do you want to do this with me?” say, “I’d really like for you to come with me.”

How you say things to someone going through depression or anxiety matters. Your friend is depressed, and they probably don't want to do anything with anyone, but making someone feel like their presence is wanted, helps. 

Sometimes the help they need is beyond what you can offer.

Moment of honesty. I realize my anxiety issues are sometimes more than what my family and friends can handle.  My mother isn’t a therapist or psychiatrist, and it’s not her job to be my therapist or psychiatrist. That goes for you when helping your friends who are going thru as well. You should definitely offer a listening ear, but the help your friend may need could possibly be beyond the spectrum of help you can give. 
 
Let’s take it a step further sometimes medicine is necessary and out of fear, especially in the black community, we sometimes don’t even know where to start when it comes to this part of the process. 

Help your friend, family, or spouse find therapy or psychiatrist options. Go with them.  I know a guy who is happily married that is currently going to group counseling with his friend who was recently divorced Sometimes people are scared, need the push and don’t even know where or how to start. Help them.


Be mindful of What you Say

Certain words and phrases can easily make a situation worse. If you don’t have the answer or know how to help, that’s okay. Listening always helps the most but saying things like “it could be worst”, “It’ll get better”  or “everyone has bad days” usually does two things; not help or make the situation worst. Things like this usually make someone dealing with depression feel like they are handling situations wrong which ultimately makes things works.

Don’t dismiss their feelings. 
Don’t offer false hope or cheer. 
Don’t tell them how they should cope. 

Instead, say things like:
 “What can I do to help you feel better?”
“I understand that you are hurting. I have your back.”
“I’m sorry that you’re having a bad day. I’d like to help.”
“Help me understand”

Don’t Downplay the Severity of Whatever Someone is Going Through

I had a friend who didn’t understand that her boyfriend was depressed, she felt like the man needed to man up and be strong. It was hard for me to watch. Having to deal with it myself, I recognized what was going on instantly.

I find this common in the black community just because people don't understand or know what to do when they are dealing with someone going through, they instantly down play it. 

If you’ve never been through it you could never understand. You may feel like your friend, family member, or boo is being dramatic (hell they might be) but to them it’s serious. If you don’t understand what someone is going through revisit the previous bullets; be mindful of what you say and help them find someone who does understand if you can't. 

These are simple ways we can make mental health a priority in our community. Listen to them, actually be there for them, go out with them (not to drink alcohol because it is a depressant and makes the situation worse). I hope these small points can help when checking on your strong friend because it is deeper than asking “How are you today?”