2. Honor the person’s right to feel their emotions whatever they are: In trying to help, we may want to make negative feelings go away by dismissing them or telling the person they are wrong to feel as they do. Sometimes hearing another person’s distress may cause our own distress and it’s very natural to want to drive uncomfortable feelings away. However, if you inadvertently try to change someone’s feelings before they are ready to change, the person may simply argue their feelings that much stronger to try to make you understand them or clam up and stop talking because you’ve now proven that you don’t understand.
When it comes to handling feelings, the best way out is through. A simple statement like, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” can keep the dialogue flowing and help the person find relief.
3. Be supportive and affirming: Because depression is the physiological response of how we interpret stress, it is important to recognize that the depressed person may have limited ability to use their full perspective. While the glass may be half full to you, the depressed person may only be able to see the part that is empty and what is obvious to you may be invisible to them.
Depressed people are often ones who set unrealistically high expectations for themselves. They may have an unreasonably low self-image defining themselves as lazy, worthless, or a failure in experiencing hardships or for not performing at their best. Remind them that being depressed does not mean they are defective or broken. Point out whatever you can to affirm your faith in them and give them a renewed sense of self-confidence and hope.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask safety related questions: Because depression runs a wide range from general low mood to suicide, it can be awkward to know what questions to ask and which ones to skip. The rule of thumb I use is, if it crosses your mind, ask about it.
Remember depression is a form of the flight instinct. In order to get away from pain, people may employ a variety of dangerous tactics from excessively using drugs or alcohol, to cutting themselves, starving themselves, running away from home, or the most extreme form of flight, suicide. If you are concerned that someone you love may be doing things that risk their safety or are having thoughts of harming themselves, ask them directly. If so, assist them in getting professional help. Even if they don’t want the help, you just may save their life.
5. Ask them what you can do to help: People who are depressed often feel hopeless or feel inadequate for needing help, so they may not ask. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Sometimes they may not know what they need but a large amount of the time they will. The needs of each person will be different but take seriously what they tell you and do what you can. While talking with a doctor or therapist is advisable and may be necessary, never underestimate the value of your own ability to also help another human being simply by listening, caring, and being willing to help them.