by Kelli Washington
It is difficult to understand how to help someone struggling with depression or anxiety, especially if we haven’t struggled with depression or anxiety ourselves. As a friend or family member, it’s important to remember that we don’t have to have all the answers. We only need to be supportive. Here are some ways to do that: Listen, ask questions, validate, encourage, be patient, don’t judge, and don’t make them feel like a burden.
Listen: Too often we try to solve the problem or offer solutions, when all the person may need is a listening ear. Dealing with depression or anxiety can be emotionally exhausting. It’s too much to keep inside, so just being a listening ear for a friend or loved one can make all the difference.
Ask Questions: There’s a lot of information we don’t know, so it’s okay to ask questions to better know what’s going on and what they’re actually experiencing.
Validate: Validating someone doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with what they’re saying, but rather that you recognize that it is their experience, and that their experience is valid. Sometimes we just want someone to say “Wow, feeling that way must really suck,” because it does. Validate, validate, validate!
Encourage: Encourage them to get help! Help them to see that it’s okay to reach out and ask for support. You could even go with them to get help. We are much more inclined to do hard things when we feel like someone is on our side, cheering us on.
Be Patient: It may be frustrating that they won’t “snap out of it” or “move on” but unfortunately, that’s not the way depression or anxiety work. Rushing the process can make them feel as though their feelings and experiences aren’t valid and don’t matter. Take time with them, recognize that as much as things may be frustrating for you, as an outsider, they are much worse for them.
Don’t judge: Placing judgment on their situation is not going to benefit anyone. You are not in their shoes, which means you don’t have the right to place judgment on how they should or shouldn’t be handling things.
Don’t make them feel like a burden: No one wants to experience depression or anxiety, and oftentimes, despite reassurance from friends and family, that individual may feel like they are a burden if they reach out for support. That’s the opposite of what we want. We want our loved ones to feel like they deserve to be heard and supported; we want them to ask for help. A big part of depression and anxiety is irrational thoughts. We don’t want to reinforce those thoughts by letting someone know that they are, in fact, a burden.
Most importantly, just being there for them will make all the difference! Depression and anxiety make you feel like you are alone in this world, so reassuring them that they aren’t alone is big. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you aren’t doing “enough.” We do what we can. It is not your responsibility to “fix” things, just be a friend.
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Kelli Washington, LPCC, is a counselor at Palos Verdes High School.