When your loved one is struggling with depression, it can be hard knowing what to do or say. Chances are, you want to support them in any way you can – but it can be difficult knowing the best way to do so. Whilst everyone is different, here are five things that helped me…
You open up your messages, select their name – and then pause, wondering what to say. You know you want to write something – but you don’t want to put the wrong thing.
However, from my experience, any message you send will be appreciated. Just knowing someone is thinking about you can make a huge difference. You don’t have to write an essay, or anything too deep. A simple “just wanted to let you know I’m here” can help no end.
When I’m struggling, I sometimes find it hard to respond to people. Ending the message with a “no need to reply” takes away some of that pressure, and gives your loved one the chance to get in touch when they feel ready.
Pictures are also a great addition – in my case, the more pet pictures I receive, the better. But, if you see an image that reminds you of them – or come across something that gives you a giggle – attach that too.
Sending post isn’t necessarily something you think of doing in the digital age. I must admit, I only tend to send hand written cards to people when it’s their birthday. However, when your loved one is struggling, don’t underestimate the power of post.
When I got admitted to the psych ward, receiving letters and cards brightened up my days no end. I put all mail I received on my bedside table and, when I found the prospect of picking up my phone too overwhelming, I’d re-read everything I’d been sent, reminding myself that I wasn’t on my own, and that people were in my corner fighting alongside me.
You don’t need to send long letters – or attach gifts – just a basic card with a few reassuring words in will be greatly appreciated. Bonus points if the card has a funny image on the front – or a photo of their favourite animal (dogs for me, please).
Offer to Help around the House
When my mental health isn’t great, doing basic household jobs can feel like climbing Everest. The house gets messy, healthy meals go out of the window – and don’t even get me started on the mountain of plates that accumulate on the kitchen worktop. Having an untidy house can make you feel worse mentally – but tackling anything alone can just seem too much.
If you feel able to, let your loved one know you’re free to help them with any jobs they may find overwhelming. Offer to bring them a home cooked meal, or take them food shopping. Let them know you’re happy to come round and help them tidy. Suggest doing jobs together – it may motivate them to get out of bed – plus, in my experience, doing household chores with others is so much funner than doing them alone – especially when your favourite tunes are blasting out loud (hello High School Musical soundtrack).
Suggest Going Outside
Now, we’ve all heard about the benefits of getting outdoors for both our physical and mental health. However, when you’re struggling, the idea of leaving the house alone can seem pretty daunting.
If you’re able to, suggest going outside. It doesn’t have to be anything wild – just a gentle stroll in a park, or sitting in the garden would work. Alternatively if, like me, you’re a massive exercise lover, you could go for a jog or head to the local courts for a game of tennis. Let them know there’s no pressure to go but, if they want to, you’d love to see them. Tell them you’re happy to go somewhere close to their home so, if they want to turn around at any point, that’s absolutely fine.
Doing so also offers you the opportunity to have a catch up. When out and about, understand that they may not want to talk about their mental health. If they feel comfortable opening up, great. However, if they’d rather chat about a hilarious cat video they’ve seen, that’s also fab. The main thing is getting outside, and spending that time together.
Be Kind to Yourself
When a loved one is struggling, you may feel like it’s up to you to “make them better” – but, believe me, it isn’t. Whilst there are some things you can help with, treatment should be left to professionals. In the same way you wouldn’t put a cast on your pal’s broken leg (I hope), it’s not your job to “mend” them mentally. Offer to take them to the doctors or, if under the care of a specialist, suggest making contact with them. Don’t try and “fix” everything yourself.
Remember to also look after your own wellbeing. When I was in hospital, I know it was incredibly draining for my wife and family – so make sure you’re taking time out for yourself. Practice self-care in any way you see fit: it might be watching your favourite movie whilst eating copious amounts of ice cream, or it could be setting boundaries, explaining to your friend that you’re there for them – but you’re finding certain aspects a bit much, and you’d prefer they spoke to someone else about particular issues. It may feel like a hard conversation to have – but trust me when I say, it’ll help your own mental health – and your friendship in the long term.