It seems that a lot of people found my post 5 Things Never to Say to a Recovering Anorexic and Some Positive Alternatives to be a helpful guide. It’s really motivating for me to see some positives come out of this really difficult time. Today I’m going to write a similar post, only this time focused on depression – if it would be helpful I could write similar posts for self-harm or anxiety too. Leave a comment to let me know if these, or others would be helpful.
As ever, these suggestions are not a one size fits all. They are a starting point for discussion. Some you’ll identify with and want to adopt, others might form the start of a conversation which starts ‘that’s not at all how I feel, what would actually be helpful for me is…’ – and that’s good too. The key thing is to talk about it. If you’re suffering, to find a way to let those around you know how to help – they want to. If you’re a loved one, to find ways to support the person you care about and perhaps these ideas will inspire or motivate you just a little bit.
Thank you to Verity who asked for this post and who contributed to the ideas here and who provides me with support and inspiration on darker days despite the fact she is living in a dark fog herself. So here are my suggestions.. things you can do to help a loved one with depression:
A lot of people are afraid that they’ll say or do the wrong thing. Or they don’t understand depression and feel they’re not expert enough to help. And so at the times when we need them most, our friends and family can somewhat melt away. If you take nothing else from this blog post – take this – saying something, even what might turn out to be the wrong thing, is almost always better than saying nothing at all. Saying something shows you care. It is a starting point. It is a door being opened. Spend more time with us or do some more research and you’ll learn how to be a really good support, but right now, one of the things we need more than anything is to know that we are not alone in the darkness. Reach out with your words whether physical or digital, reach out with your arms and hold us tight. Whatever you do, do not let this become about you and the fact you do not know what to say. Step beyond that fear and offer yourself as our friend. We will be forgiving. We can learn together…
Short, chatty messages, pictures or videos
One of the many issues we struggle with when we’re depressed is a lack of ability to concentrate – so shorter messages, pictures or brief voice messages or videos are just brilliant. That doesn’t meant to say that there isn’t the space for a longer letter or email – we just might not read it immediately.
My friend Alice sent me a care box a few days ago. A box filled with things to help me look after myself, or to make me smile or to help me know how much she cared about me as a friend. This box sat, unopened, for days. She had put so much love and care into it and she must have been desperate to know what I thought of it. But it’s been a bad week – just the kind of week the box would help to lift. But I was so paralysed by depression I was unable to open the box. Unable to do myself that kindness. Eventually, yesterday, I worked my way to a place where I could open this beautiful bridge of friendship and it brought me a huge amount of happiness once it was the right time.
I have felt similarly about emails and letters. I have perhaps a hundred emails sat in my inbox right now (well way more than that but about 100 personal ones) these are all full of words I want to read. I want to treasure; messages I want to respond to but I just can’t right now.
What I can respond to is a 30 word text. Or a 45 second Whatsapp voice message.
So don’t feel you can’t or shouldn’t send longer, bigger stuff – but be aware that we might not get to it right away. Different people will feel differently about this – talk to your loved ones, don’t assume – find what works for you.
Idle chat and common ground
Those short messages don’t all have to be messages that are trying to fix us. When we’re stuck in a hole it can be great to get glimpses of the outside world and remember the things are going on out there beyond our bedroom curtains. Many people tell me they feel bad that they are having fun whilst I am struggling and they shy away from telling me the positive things they’ve been up to – please don’t. We love to see pictures of your fun and games. We love to hear what you’ve been up to. Life is there for living; we might not be very good at doing it right now but we want to have something to aim for.
That picture of your kids eating ice cream in the rain with smiles on their faces and a storm cloud in the background does not make us feel sad, it brings us hope.
Talk to us too about things we have enjoyed together in the past – if we have shared interests and hobbies, let us know how these hobbies are continuing for you right now, even if we can’t access them. Whether it’s sport or music or art or dancing please continue to share our hobbies. We can enjoy things vicariously when we feel too paralysed by our illness to enjoy them first hand.
Support accessing support and help with practical jobs
Sometimes we need help getting help. Things like picking up the phone to call the doctor can feel way too huge. Perhaps we’re scared of making calls. Perhaps we don’t feel like we deserve the help we are being encouraged to access. Perhaps we find it hard to get our words out and can’t coherently ask the questions we need to.
What for you might seem a small task can be monumental for us – and can be the difference between us accessing the support we need and not. Today, my husband is calling the GP to make an appointment for me to start on some anti-anxiety medication. It’s a call I can’t make alone and an appointment I would struggle to access without support for a whole range of reasons. Supporting in this way is so helpful – it makes you feel like you’re doing something (hurrah!) and it helps us to get a little better by accessing the support we need.
If you like to help in practical ways there are loads of other things you can do too… you can offer to do things like:
- Pick up prescriptions
- Walk the dog
- Pick up basic groceries – milk, eggs, bread, fruit
- Help us unpack an online grocery delivery
- Cook a meal for us (either to eat together or that you can leave with us)
- Take out the rubbish
- Do the washing up
- Put the washing machine on
- Take our kids out for a couple of hours
- Mow the lawn
And so the list goes on. You see, when you’re depressed, these jobs all still need doing but they are really incredibly hard. Errands that might take you half an hour and little thought can loom large all day for us. Having someone help is both a physical and an emotional relief – thank you.
If you’re going to help in this way, suggest a job to us. Don’t say ‘what would be helpful?’ that’s really hard for us to answer but if you say, I’m just popping to Tesco. I’ll pick up some milk and drop it by on my way home. I can chuck a wash on and make some tea whilst I’m there if you fancy’ is a tangible suggestion of help we can more readily accept. Make your offers simple and concrete – but don’t be offended if we say no. We will, often.
Accept a lack of plans
It’s hard to plan and when you ask us what we’ve got planned, or what we’ve been up to it can make us feel so inadequate to say ‘well nothing actually’ because sometimes just the very act of staying alive, of making it from morning till night is such an huge task for us that there is room for little else. So we might not have plans and that might seem strange to you and you might think we’d feel better if we had things to look forward to… but the kinds of things you might look forward to, and which we might ultimately enjoy, are things that will fill us with dread and fear for days and days whilst they approach ever closer.
If you want to spend some time with us – we’ll often find it easier if you plan it in your diary but then ask us nearer the time. You just turning up can be scary sometimes, but giving us between half an hour and half a day’s warning is often just right. This varies from person to person so do check.
Enjoy simple hobbies together
If you have a hobby you enjoy, especially if you find it calming or soothing, please enjoy it with us. If we don’t know how to do it, perhaps you can teach us? Lots of people have recommended things like:
- Tidying / organising
The only limit is your imagination. If there’s a hobby you’d like to share, think about sharing it with us. We’ve probably got a bit more time than your other friends right now!
Ask for advice
Just because we have our own issues now doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be your friend now too. Personally I identify strongly as a friend and as someone who enjoys listening when my friends need me and who likes to offer advice or support where I feel able. The friends who have continued to seek my listening ear or support with parenting, baking or whatever else, are the friends who have helped me to feel a little more whole. Being depressed can make you lose your whole sense of identity so being able to still be a friend can be helpful – though as ever, make sure your friend feels this way before you offload your worries on them.
Share other people’s experiences
Sometimes a poem, a photograph, a painting or a blog post written by someone else who is experiencing something similar can provide a really good insight into our world. If you see things and think ‘I wonder if that’s how my friend is feeling’ show us and ask us. Often other people can express things in ways we don’t know how – so other people’s words and pictures can be a gift that allows us to help you to understand. Sometimes they help us to understand ourselves a little better too.
Send post or little gifts
Finally – I have to end with my very favourite. Physical things are just wonderful. Receiving even a few words on a postcard through the door can really lift a day. Cards and letters are something that many people who are struggling with depression will love to receive. You don’t have to say anything deep and meaningful, often something silly that will bring a smile is the perfect choice. Tangible things we can hold in our hands remind us we are not alone and that you are out there and you care. A hand written card says more than a thousand text messages might.
Receiving small gifts can also give a lovely boost. People often ask what to give and of course it is different for everyone but some things I have personally really enjoyed receiving include:
- Silly socks
- Scented candles
- Bath products (especially lovely smelling foams)
- Books – especially ones you have read and enjoyed
- eVouchers for buying audio books (for the days reading is too hard)
- Colouring books and pens (ideas here)
- Cushions or things to cuddle (Verity, who inspired this post loves bears!)
- Framed photos or phrases or pictures
- A mug that I makes me think of you
- Posh ice cream / Frozen Yoghurt (and someone to eat it with, sometimes)
- Notecards / writing paper
- Any form or pens / paper stationery
It almost doesn’t matter what it is – the joy is in the giving and the receiving because this is a moment that you thought of us. That means so very much to us at moments when we are lost to ourselves.
I hope you found this helpful and it helped you to either help a loved one or seek help from your own loved ones. Please take a moment to comment if you found it helpful (I love receiving comments at the moment!) and please also add any other ideas you might have. There will be tonnes I’ve not thought of so please share them.
Good luck in your journey and thanks for travelling on mine with me. We only ever have to make it through the next minute. Hopefully some of these ideas will help with a few of those minutes this week.