One of the key elements of friendship is giving and receiving support. Especially when they are depressed or going through a difficult time. But some people struggle with this and do not know how to do it. It’s normal to feel stuck and at a loss for how to help. In this article, I will discuss some of the best strategies for offering support to someone depressed so that you can learn ways to be more supportive.
You can become a better friend by learning better ways to support those around you. Support is not about fixing their problem. That is rarely something you can do. It is about accompanying them and showing them that you care. Doing this is more than enough. Below are 8 tips for how you can show some support to someone that is experiencing symptoms of depression and other mental health related problems, like anxiety.
The first thing to consider is that you should allow your friend to talk first. You just need to focus on listening to them. Do not worry too much about offering advice or solutions. It is ok to be at a loss of words and not know the right thing to say. Try not to overcomplicate it.
Instead, try to listen actively and give the person the opportunity to speak for as long as they need to. Active listening involves paying full attention to the person speaking with verbal and non-verbal signs that you are focused on them. By using active listening, you will let them feel heard.
The temptation is often to make the problem seem like it is less than it is. You might say “it’s not a big deal” or “it doesn’t matter” or any similar phrase to calm them down. Allow them to show their true emotions. Validate their feelings. Even if you think the issue is not significant, it is clearly upsetting your friend, so validate this experience.
Try to avoid dismissive comments or ideas and show that you empathize with the situation. Let them feel how they feel and to express it safely. Try to avoid these common phrases: others have it worse, it’s not a big deal, let go of the situation, it’s not worth it, I am going through something worse, just forget about it, and so on. Instead, say something like this: “that sucks” or “that is awful.”
We often turn to advice, trying to find solutions to problems when we are trying to be supportive. However, it is often less helpful than expected. Advice can feel unwelcome for various reasons. We might not know the entire context, offer solutions that have been tried before, or use advice to dismiss the problem, so that we don’t have to engage with the person’s emotions. Instead, ask questions. You can also ask them how you can support them.
Encourage the person to tell you more. If you have advice that might truly be helpful, ask them first if they want to hear it and respect what they say. Questions can encourage the person to share more and keep talking.
You should not lead with advice or solutions because when emotions are intense, these things are less than helpful. Focus on emotional support first. Let the person talk, cry, and say what they want without trying to calm them down.
Offer a shoulder to lean on and don’t judge. When the time is right, they will be more receptive to advice. Remember, timing is key here.
Venting and complaining can be good for a while. But avoid feeding into this behavior. Both of you can get caught in a cycle of complaining. Avoid adding to the negative thoughts and ideas by complaining or venting too. Unfortunately, some people are almost constantly pessimist and can drag your mood down.
When you add to the complaints, it becomes easier to vent more and more. This leads to the person getting more upset rather than calming down. Stay focused on the present and offer your empathy but avoid getting caught up in the negative emotions yourself. Don’t make it all about yourself. Allow your friend to have the stage. Turn your microphone off and turn the volume on theirs up.
It can be very tempting to try and take charge of the situation. You might feel better able to offer a solution or tell your friend what to do, but that’s not a productive strategy. Unless you are asked to take charge specifically, don’t offer directives.
Offer them the support you can give and encourage them to come up with their own solutions. They will always know themself best and be the expert in their life.
We will not always respond in the best way to a friend who needs support. It takes time to learn how to do this, especially since in many situations, we don’t expect finding ourselves in the position to offer emotional support.
You don’t have to be the perfect helper or listener; trying and doing better is enough. If you find that you mess up a situation, it’s good to apologize later or try to learn from the situation. Think about it this way. Most people don’t remember what was said, but how you made them feel.
Have a compassionate attitude. Make an honest effort to help and to understand. Center emotions and consider what your friend might be feeling at that moment. Compassion will help you do the right thing for the time and offer the support that your friend is asking for. Often, it is just being there. Just listen. Just stay present. You don’t need to do anything else. Don’t overcomplicate it.
In conclusion, offering support during a difficult time is a skill. Just like other skills, you can practice and improve upon them. You might have a habit of responding with advice or taking charge. But that is also something that you can work on. Use these skills for supporting someone with depression. Lastly, encourage them to think about whether they should consider attending therapy with a therapist. After all, attending therapy with a counselor has a lot of benefits.