A year ago, I lost touch with Sharanya*, a very close friend of mine. The calls and chats gradually ground to a halt for six months. What happened? Sharanya and I did not exactly have a huge dramatic meltdown… I wish we’d had one. It was all very slow, very imperceptible. I could see that she was going through a rough patch, I tried to be there for her, but she told me, “You’d help me best if you left me alone.” It hurt to hear this, but I reluctantly decided to give her what she asked for.
It took a lot of soul searching to overcome the pain of rejection. It took even longer to realize the real culprit – my friend was depressed. What I thought was the judicious thing to do – giving her space, was actually the very opposite of what I should’ve done. We all have loved ones who’ve faced the blues and lashed out at us in their pain. Depending on our personalities, we lash back or just slink away like I did. So what should you really do for your depressed parent / relative / friend / spouse? How can you be there for a depressed person? What should you say? Here are some tips on how to talk to a depressed friend:
Asking open ended questions
“What’s on your mind?”
Initiating a conversation when you suspect a loved one is depressed can be awkward. Relax, it’s not the movies – you don’t have to say that one mind blowing, goose bumps inducing dialogue that will make your friend jump back on their feet, ready to take on the world! You can start a conversation by being direct, but gentle, “I feel like you’ve been having a rough time recently. What’s on your mind? How can I help?” Without being too pushy, ask open ended questions.
And what do you do if your friend does not want to talk about their feelings? Just be there for them, spend time with them, check in on them and let them know that you are there for them, whenever they feel like they are ready to talk.
“I get you.”
When they talk, listen to them in order to understand them (and not to instantly fling out quick-fix solutions like a ninja’s knives). Leave your cell phone aside, and give them your full attention. Validate their feelings with “I get you”, “That sounds difficult” or “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Helping with Daily Chores
“What can I help you with today?”
With depression, keeping up with day-to-day chores can get overwhelming, more so when the backlog keeps piling up. Instead of a vague, “kuch chahiye ho toh bataana”, specifically ask your loved one what task you can help them with today – cooking a meal / sending one over / picking up medications or groceries. If you can make the time, offer to come over and accompany them for a particular task with some music.
Occasionally they may cancel plans at the last minute. Be understanding, let them know that they need not feel guilty and that the rain check can be encashed later, whenever they feel like it. What you offer may not be what they need, so suggest, ensure they aren’t hesitating and then leave it to them.
Continuing to be there
“I’m there for you.”
While you may have the patience initially, it may wear thin as the weeks go by. After seemingly happy days when you feel that your loved one is back to their erstwhile normal self, they may spiral down. Understand that it may be one long roller coaster ride. Take a break if you need one and recharge your batteries (you’re human too!)
At times it may seem to be like a one-way street with no reciprocation. Hang in there without losing faith in the relationship. Stay in touch through calls, hugs, messages, or “Bass aise hi yaad aayi teri” or even silly memes on inside jokes if that’s your jam!
Knowing your enemy
“I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.”
Read up about depression and the possible symptoms. Depression can take on varying forms like anger, lethargy, confusion, memory loss, excess sleep or tiredness or even actual pains in the head or tummy! Read up about the myths, misconceptions and danger signs to watch out for.
Dissociating the person from the illness
“It’s not you, it’s the depression.”
Sometimes depression causes people to feel like they are a burden or that you would be better off without them. Remind your depressed loved one that it’s an illness from an imbalance of chemicals in their brain and not a character flaw. Telling them what you like about them and that they matter to you will help. If you do get angry at them, reassure them that it’s their illness that you are frustrated at and not them.
Getting expert help
“How can we help you get better?”
Though we feel like we could be better than Shah Rukh Khan from Dear Zindagi, counselling is a legitimate profession that needs training. Whenever your friend is open to the idea, help them find a therapist and offer help to set up an appointment. If medications are needed, offer to accompany them to the psychiatrist like you would take them to an orthopaedist if they were to break a bone. Depression can cause them to feel too drained to keep up with the visits. Keep checking in regularly. Nudge, don’t shove.
Oh, what about Sharanya? I’m ashamed (and relieved) to say that she reached out to me on my birthday. Her depression hasn’t gone fully, but is much better now. Also, we both are closer than ever before.
* not her real name.