It can be frightening to watch a friend sink into a depressive crisis, especially if they have been going along well for a while.
Some may consider that their latest downward spiral is a need for attention, or because they aren’t taking care of themselves, others may suggest they know exactly what they are feeling, or make other thoughtless comments that intensify the situation. Sometimes the depressed person isolates themselves and shies away from contact – at least, that is what I normally do.
If I am depressed these are a few of the things that have helped me to help myself. I’ve been lucky to have found a good support network over the past year and the friendship and understanding has helped me immensely.
Encourage me to talk about how I am feeling.
Understand that my symptoms are horribly unpleasant and consuming for me but I do not always realise that I am thinking or acting a certain way because of them – talking about them can help me to become aware of how they relate and notice that I am being unreasonable or engaging in poor coping skills.
Help me to identify what triggered the crisis.
It is often something small and seemingly insignificant that can lead to the mental breakdown, sometimes the simple act of expressing the toxic feelings that are inside can help me to feel better. Often it takes time for me to admit what it was that “broke the camel’s back” because it feels so embarrassing to admit to something seemingly tiny creating such a storm within me, but once the connection is made it can really help to commence healing!
Listen without judgement.
I am already ashamed of my own feelings and the way I am acting because of them. If you are seeing me cry it is because my pain has reached the point where I can no longer hide it and I am incredibly vulnerable right now. Listen and let me talk, ask questions to help draw me out but please do not try to tell me that you know what I am feeling, or pass judgement on the validity of my fears.
Ask me if I am safe.
The most powerful thing someone has ever said to me during a depressive crisis was “Are you safe?”, the second most powerful thing was “Can I come and sit with you?”. Suicidal thoughts can sometimes become obsessive when a person is deeply depressed, having to stop and think about if you are safe or not can help put a break into the circuit and help refocus them. Don’t be embarrassed to ask!
Share your own safety plan with me.
A friend once encouraged me to write up a “Suicide Safety Plan”, I admit I had never heard of it before – sitting down and writing it out helped me focus and break the cycle of thoughts that were going through my mind. She shared her own with me so I knew the types of things I needed to be considering and the people that should be included.
Set boundaries for yourself.
Ask me what you can do to help, and be honest if you are not able to be there to support me. I understand that dealing with someone who is sad and seemingly broken is tough and you may not be emotionally strong enough at this particular time to handle it without hurting yourself – be truthful about your own limitations. I do not expect you to sacrifice your own mental health for mine.
All of us need support from time to time, but with mental illness it is particularly hard to know what to do or say at times. Everyone’s needs are different, how they will respond is dependent on what they are going through, but personally the above things have helped me and I hope they could help you or someone you know too!