In our overly connected society, we may often confuse connectivity with connection, human connection that is. Commenting, texting, reposting, and retweeting have become substitutes for communication and we often erroneously use these to gauge the status of a relationship. That can be dangerous, because the truth is, so much gets overlooked when scrolling through our feeds. Sometimes it’s either way too apparent that a friend is suffering from depression or anxiety[i] and we are quick to catalogue them as “dark”. Other times, our friends become experts at curating their lives to showcase a surreal perfection, and the easiest thing is for us to believe that they are alright.
So, you notice your friend is feeling the blues, the reds, and every color in between. What can you do if you suspect a close friend may be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety?
What Not To Say
Disclaimer: I am no expert! I can only speak from experience and cannot possibly put into words how painful each of the following statements can be:
- “You’re being negative” and the equally frustrating “Think positive”. Most depressed people know they are being negative, they know it because they feel negativity in the soreness of their muscles every single day. And people who suffer from anxiety, by definition, think only in terms of negative outcomes. So, while these statements are true and would seem helpful, they only serve to salt an open wound. It’s a reminder of just how broken they are. It would be the equivalent of saying to someone who suffers from blindness “You can’t see”.
- “What you need to do is get out more”. Again, there is so much truth to this simple statement. The problem is when you’re inclined to visualize catastrophic endings as if they were prophecies “getting out there” is terrifying.
- “But you have everything”. Material possessions, apparent success, intelligence, beauty… none of these account for chemical imbalances or the effects of prolonged stress. Reminding someone of everything they have will only sound like you are accusing them of being ungrateful, which leads to shame and guilt; a combination which yields unfavorable results.
- “Mind over matter”. First of all, it’s too cliché to ever say this aloud, so stop it. Secondly, this phrase derives from the premise that the mind in question is working properly. In the case of someone suffering from anxiety or depression, the mind is the very thing causing the physical pain, lethargy, panic attacks, etc. Until they haven’t learned to outthink their own thoughts, there is no way they can apply this advice.
- “That’s just your depression talking”. Have you ever accused a woman of being angry because she might be on her period? If you’re wrong, it’s insulting; if you’re right it’s insensitive. Regardless, it’s never received well. It’s true that people who suffer from depression and anxiety can misconstrue, misquote, and exaggerate. Oftentimes, their arguments are completely one-sided; it’s part of the problem. That doesn’t make their pain any less palpable, their anger any less valid, or their sadness any less real.
What You Can Do
It may often feel like navigating a minefield, but there is plenty you can do which will be appreciated (most of the time).
- Recognize their symptoms. We can often see changes in people before they become aware of these themselves. Once the pang of being blown off wears off, start keeping tabs on your friend, when they seek professional help you can compare notes.
- Do not criticize their decision to accept or refuse treatment. You’d never do this with a cancer patient, would you? Recognize that every person owns their body and the right pursue a course of therapy or treatment that is different from what you would choose.
- Switch it up. You may be used to staying out late and drinking with your friend, but her needs may have changed. Think of relaxing activities that do not include caffeine or alcohol which can be harmful to sufferers of anxiety and depression. Invite them to exercise with you. Real talk, they may decline every single time; but, one day, they may say yes and it will mean everything in the world that you invited them.
- Reach out IRL. Don’t think that replying to a text with three heart emoji is offering help. Insist. True, the person will be rude, negative, and may even offend you. Try to forgive them and give them credit for all the times they were better. I always appreciate when friends leave voice notes if I reject their calls. They don’t know that I replay them over and over when I need to hear them.
- Cut them some slack. They know how much of a burden they can be. They realize they make snappy comments they can never take back. They are in physical pain or fear every day of their lives. They are fully aware of how rude and neglectful they can be. Still, there is no guilt trip you can give them that they haven’t already given themselves. So, just cut them some slack.
How illogical that in our overly connected society, we so often confuse connectivity with connection. Resist the tendency to disconnect from someone you suspect is feeling blue. Rather, fight to stay connected through any and every means necessary. Know that the extent of their recovery will greatly depend on each of those connections.
[i] I’ll use both interchangeably because, although they are very different, they often go hand in hand
Media sources: giphy.com