Helping People We Love
After writing several articles about coping with depression, I have been asked this question a few times: “How can I help my friends (or family) who suffer from depression?”
I was struck with what a loving question this is. Rather than avoiding people who may be difficult to be around, these friends wanted to be present and helpful. That is a true depth of friendship and love. As I thought about this question, I was sadly reminded of several families I worked with over the past 40 years. Families whom, I am sure, still feel the emptiness at their holiday table after their child chose suicide during this season. These were loving families whose children suffered from depression, sometimes over years, sometimes silently. These are extreme and not-so-common outcomes, but many of us have family members and friends who find daily tasks difficult because of their feelings of sadness and helplessness.
So, what can we do? The first responsibility in this situation is this — stay in contact with your loved one and touch base with them regularly. This is so simple to do in our technological age. A quick phone call (even if you just leave a voice message), a text, a picture of beautiful scenery, a photo of a shared experience from the past, anything that says, “I am thinking of you.” A card dropped in the mail, a note left on the door with some holiday cookies — what would bring a smile to your face? Do that. And make sure the person knows you are available if they need you.
When your friend does express their feelings, listen. Don’t feel you must try to “fix” a situation. Listening is validating, especially during the busy holiday time, showing someone you are giving them the precious gift of time. Even though you won’t have the answers, you can always encourage them to continue sharing and suggest professional help. Offer to go with them to their first appointment. Give them this number for New Mexico’s 24/7 help-line: 1-855-NMCRISIS.
Invite them for a low-stress activity. During this time of hurried shopping, cooking, family get-togethers — which may be seen as stressful activities — an invitation to take a crisp afternoon hike, a scenic drive, or a quiet evening of dominoes or cards with some healthy snacks available may be a great respite for both of you.
Ask if the person would help you prepare something for someone in need: a stocking for a foster child, a collection of toiletries for people without housing, a box of pantry items to take to the school counselor for a family in need. Oftentimes, looking outside of ourselves and helping others is uplifting. While offering your time, let them know it is perfectly okay to decline your offer, as they may be far more comfortable with time to themselves.
Be careful not to place any demands on what they “should” be doing. If alcohol is an issue, don’t encourage participation in events where alcohol takes center stage. If they do choose to spend time alone, consider a gift of an uplifting book, some beautiful music, a puzzle, or other activity they can enjoy doing on their own.
And after they decline your offer to join you in an activity, continue to extend the invitation and STAY IN CONTACT. Being a friend is an honor and a privilege. Imagine being the flame that offers light to someone. Is there a better way to spend our time?