How to Help a Friend in Depression

Close friends saved my life when I went through a depression, and I want to pass on my experience to help you and others.

Do you know somebody going through a depression right now? Are you wondering how you might be able to help them?

I recently did a speech about this for Stop Stigma – a Sacramento County organization dedicated to reducing the “stigma” and discomfort people have around talking about depression. It’s a lot more rampant than people realize – afflicting one in every four people.

I drew upon my own multi-year depression when I learned I was going blind from glaucoma.  I’d already lost the majority of my vision and faced the possibility losing all of it.  I “went down the rabbit hole”, and reached a place so dark that I decided I was going to “check out”.  I made my plans, drafted my will, and wrote goodbye emails to all my friends.

Being in that space is like being in a small dark hole.  My world shrank to the point where I couldn’t get outside of my own feelings of pain and turmoil.  I wanted to die, and was intent on making that happen.

Fortunately, I got lucky.  In part, that was because of friends who were able to be there for me in the darkest of times.

What did they do?

  • They listened – They let me talk about what I was going through.  Just having somebody there that I could express what I was going through was huge.  It served as a reality check for me.
  • They didn’t judge me – My friends were able to check their own thoughts and feelings at the door before talking with me.  They didn’t project their own thoughts or feelings onto me.  If they had I would have clammed up and ended the conversation.
  • Sometimes they met me in that dark space – At their best, some of my friends were able to drop into that dark space with me and feel what I was going through.  This is like “listening on steroids”.  When I could sense their presence in that same dark space, it brought a little bit of light into the hole.  There was more space to move around.

It can be extremely difficult to support somebody in these ways. If you’re not used to being around somebody in grief or depression, it can be extremely uncomfortable.  But, if you can, it’s like a lifeline for your friend.

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