- Kaitlyn Pfiester
Five Ways to Help a Friend Who Is Struggling with Anxiety and Depression
Watching someone we love experience mental challenges is hard. Not knowing how to help is even harder. Learn how to support some with depression or anxiety.
Understanding Anxiety and Depression
The first step in helping someone with anything is to educate yourself on the topic. That is especially true when dealing with mental illnesses. It’s vital to learn the impact these things have on a person and understand the stigma around them.
So, what is anxiety and depression?
Like most things, anxiety looks different for each person. However, a few key factors contribute to what is known as anxiety. MedlinePlus defines it as such: “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat.”
It’s important to remember that anxiety isn’t inherently bad. It can be helpful when the outside world presents a real threat. But if the feeling persists for weeks or months on end, it might be the sign of a disorder and may need professional attention through therapy, medication, or both.
Though treatable, depression is not uncommon and can hinder your quality of life. Mayo Clinic defines depression as: “...A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.”
This should not be confused with being sad. Other symptoms include:
● Feeling empty
● No longer finding joy in things you love
● Feeling overly tired
● Changes in your eating patterns
If any of the above last more than a few weeks, it’s time to seek professional help.
So how can you help a depressed friend dealing with these issues? Here are a few tips you can put into practice to support your loved one.
Tip One: Listen to Them
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how little people actually listen to those struggling with their mental health.
If your friend has opened up to you about what they are going through, be careful to listen and validate their feelings. Whatever you do, don’t interrupt them.
Though our society has come a long way in the past decade, there is still a stigma around these topics (especially for men), and shame is a big issue.
American researcher Brené Brown gives excellent advice on combatting this, saying: "If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive."
It’s amazing how just listening can help purge shame and self-doubt in another person!
However, just like anxiety, it’s not one size fits all. Even if you yourself have experienced these struggles, that doesn’t mean your friend is experiencing them the same way.
Tip Two: Ask if They Would Like Advice or Just a Listening Ear
As your friend tells you about what they are going through, it can be highly tempting to interrupt and offer plans of action. While we may think we are being helpful, truthfully, we are actually trying to cover up the problem instead of helping them process it.
We do this subconsciously because our brains are trying to protect us from uncomfortable situations. But the great thing about being human is that we can recognize what our brain is trying to do, reassure ourselves that we’re okay, and listen to our friend without fear of danger.
Tip Three: If They Ask for Advice, Tread Lightly
No matter the severity, taking on a topic like this can be terrifying. Most don’t know how to handle it, and that’s okay! One of the best things you can do in this situation is let your friend know that you’re not what the best course of action is but that you will be there for them to help figure it out.
Of course, a great go-to recommendation in this situation is therapy. If that’s something they’re interested in, ask them if they would like you to find a few therapists for them to check out. This is a great way to take some of the overwhelm off of your friend.
Tip Four: Don’t Try to Cover the Problem Up.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in these conversations is not taking their friends seriously. Comments like “That must suck” or “Wish I could help” can actually be more harmful than one might think and translate to “I’m so glad this isn’t my problem.”
As discussed in tip one, our brains have a tendency to avoid or ignore issues in an attempt to save ourselves from potential pain.
To combat this, when your friend is sharing something, they’re going through, try your best to be in the moment with them. If you feel you must say something, try phrases like “This sucks” or (to go back to tip number two) “Is there a way I can help?”
The first phase shows that you’re willing to sit in the “suck” with them despite what your brain is trying to tell you, and the second puts the power in their hands, allowing them to decide the next step.
Tip Five: Listen Carefully for Signs of Suicide or Self-harm
If a person is struggling with anxiety or depression, thoughts of suicide or self-harm are not uncommon. While it may be frightening, it’s an important question to find the answer to.
If your friend admits to one or both of these, ask them if they have a plan to act on it–or in the case of self-harm, ask if they have already acted on it.
Regardless of their answer, it’s important to remember to keep calm.
If they have a suicide plan, seek emergency medical help immediately!
If they don’t have a plan but they’ve thought about it before, still consider it an emergency and seek professional mental health care as soon as possible.
Every situation like this will be different, so use your best judgment. Say they admit to having thoughts of suicide, but say they don’t have a plan, if something is telling you to treat it as an emergency, listen to your gut. It’s always better safe than sorry.
Now that you know a bit more about how you can help, you can rest a bit easier knowing you are better equipped to handle these tough situations. Even if you and your friends don’t struggle with these specific issues, opening up the topic of mental health can be extremely beneficial for future issues and help break the stigma around them.
You don’t have to be at a breaking point to start therapy. If you’d like to learn more about how therapy can help you, your family, or your friends, reach out to us on our contact page or call us at (833) 496-5011.
We can’t wait to hear from you!