(This is not an easy post… so bear with me. It’s also entirely my opinion based on my own experiences.)
Yesterday, the call went out loudly that if you’re depressed, you can get help. That’s a beautiful notion. But I think it shows a lack of understanding of what some depressed people wrestle with (I can only guess). Maybe hotlines lit up yesterday. Maybe the wakeup call worked for some people. I hope it did. But I’m guessing it also made other people want to hide more carefully.
It’s up to us, not them. We have to do a better job of looking out for one another.
Quick aside: I recently saw a tweet that said something like, “what kind of asshole says anything other than ‘fine’ when you ask them how they’re doing?”
That sentiment (and it’s a common one) is a big part of the problem. We don’t make it easy for someone to say they’re having a hard time. We don’t have the patience for it. Everyone says “fine, thanks” when asked how they’re doing and everyone is lying. We’re all wounded. We all have things that eat at us. We all have bad days and dark times. - Buck 65
As someone who has had depression affect both my own life and people close to me, the above quote could not be more true. It’s lovely that people want to help and it’s lovely that people are pointing out suicide hotlines. But telling someone with severe depression that there’s a solution in a phone call isn’t necessarily any better than telling them to cheer up. Those hotlines may help some people, but they aren’t going to help everyone - it’s certainly not something that would help me. Like every other aspect of life, everyone’s depression is different.
Here’s a personal example of what people say when I try to talk about how I feel: “There’s so much good in your life. Focus on that.” This does not help me, it makes it worse. Because then I start thinking “They’re right, why can’t I be happy? Something must be wrong with me.” And then I feel worse and spiral further downward.
My advice, and again, this is based only on my experience, is that if you want to help a friend who is depressed, just be there emotionally and non-judgmentally. And don’t push them into hanging out with you. There seems to be this prevailing “Just talk to us!” sentiment right now. A couple of things make that difficult. First, it’s hard to talk about how awful you feel when it seems like the world perceives depression as a weakness, a fake ailment, or something you should just get over. Second, even if the person knows they can trust you, sometimes, they really do need some time alone before they can talk to you about it. For some people, like me, being around other people gets exhausting, especially during a bad time. Hiding how you’re really feeling takes energy and sometimes, just being alone and resting is necessary to getting through it and eventually being able to talk about it. When I say that I don’t know how I’d get through things without my cats, I am not being factious. There are times when I can’t be with people, but I can’t be alone and the cats and their unconditional love keep me sane.
So, just make sure that they know that you are there for them, unconditionally, when and if they are able to talk. Make sure they know that you will hang out with them even if they don’t want to talk about it. You will be there even if they are difficult to be around. You will not be afraid, you will not judge them, you will not stop being their friend. My fear in talking about this has always been that people would think I was crazy or just too much work to be friends with. The older I get, the more I realize that anyone who would think that isn’t worth being friends with anyway. But that’s taken me a long time to realize and it’s easy to forget when my brain chemistry goes off.
But the most important thing you can do, in a general sense, people who don’t have depression? Don’t post advice - like call a suicide hotline. Just stop stigmatizing it or making it sound like something that has to be fixed. Stop making it hard and embarrassing to talk about. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve talked about it to friends and even then, I barely do and it’s always terrifying (this post, for instance… rather stressful).
It’s not advice people need - it’s to stop feeling like outcasts that no one takes seriously or that everyone thinks is crazy or faking it. Because once we stop feeling like outcasts, we can talk about it. And personally, as much as I love the support of friends without depression, finding a friend who has it and knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about has been the most helpful thing in the world. If you don’t have depression, you cannot really get it - it’s not just feeling sad. So, talking to someone else who has experienced it is less scary. I know I can tell her what I’m thinking even though I know it sounds crazy and she’ll understand, because she’s had those exact same thoughts. And I can do the same for her. And realizing I’m not alone and someone understands - rather than just empathizes - means everything. And we’ll never find each other if we can’t talk about it openly.
People ask how someone like Robin Williams - a successful, respected actor - could feel horrible enough to take his own life. The simple answer? Because depression does not respond to logic.
Please keep that in mind when you’re trying to help. You may feel like everything you can say or do gets rejected by the person you’re trying to help and that may just be the place they’re in. But let them know that you’re there anyway, no matter how they act. And make it known in public (like social media), when there’s nothing specific like a celebrity death to trigger it, that you are a person who does not judge depression. You probably have friends with mental health issues that you have no idea have them. So, just be out about your support. The less stigma mental illness has, the easier it will be to talk about. And that’s one thing truly helpful.
(There’s more to say on this, but I have to go to work and take fur off cats. Much love to everyone who has even a vague sense of what I’m talking about.)