Picture the scene. A friend you know well asks to meet up… nothing out of the ordinary there. But when you meet, they spring on you the news that they have been diagnosed with depression. It’s an odd one. In some ways the only thing that’s changed is that they now have a name for the way they have been feeling and they’ve let you in on it. But a little knowledge goes a long way, and try as you might it will be nigh on impossible for you to think of them without now thinking of that word.
So here’s my list of some dos and don’ts. It’s not exhaustive and I haven’t experienced all of these since my own diagnosis, but thinking back over my first few months of medication there are some of the things that may have helped.
1. Do continue to share your life with them.
They are depressed, not dead. There may be times when they aren’t as active – they certainly feel the pangs of worthlessness – but they don’t want everyone else to think it too. If you would normally confide in your friend, then continue to do so. Not doing so will send a clear message to a depressed person, one that they have probably already thought. Combat this by continuing to share with them.
2. Don’t smother.
You are not their doctor, nor do you need to be. If they need you to be the one who kicks their arse, let them tell you so.
3. Do settle in for the long term.
In all likelihood your friend has been depressed a lot longer than their official diagnosis. Apart from a miraculous cure, they aren’t going to get better overnight.
4. Don’t criticise.
At this point your friend’s self-esteem is low. They feel pretty worthless. What is going on in their emotions might not correspond with what is happening in reality. We all want to justify the way we feel, and criticism to a depressed person merely justifies their already low opinion of themselves. The worst thing is they are more than likely aware of how illogical this is.
5. Do ask them why they told you.
There will be a reason. Even if it’s just because the advice in the medication leaflet tells them to. Ask them how you can help.
6. Don’t assume anything about medication.
It really does help some people. I was fearful of medication pre-diagnosis, but ever since, I wish I’d gone to the doctors sooner.
7. Do pray.
It wouldn’t be a Christian do and don’t list without prayer. One of the most helpful people in my journey through depression texts me every week to ask what to pray for. This is great because it makes me really think through my current issues, and then I know that he will pray into them specifically. He doesn’t push me if I don’t reply immediately, but I know he is there.
8. Don’t offer the normal Christian platitudes.
We all know them. They come to us when we have nothing else to say. Honestly, silence is better. Telling them how crappy it is that this is happening is better. The best thing said to me on my revelation was: “That’s beatable. And you will beat it.’