Anastasia Maksimova is a journalist, editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, and writer. In 2017, she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Nastya coped with the disease and wrote a detailed guide to depression to help people in a similar condition. This is a book based on modern scientific research and the author’s personal experience – about how to live with depression and how to help yourself or someone who needs it now. A psychiatrist, a psychiatrist-psychotherapist, a psychologist and a neurobiologist were involved in the work on it.
We are publishing a chapter from Nastya’s book – about what can be done if a person you know is depressed: what to say, do and whether it is worth offering your help.
Are you able to help
Often the first signs of depression are noticed, oddly enough, by random people – not family members or close friends. And, say, colleagues, not very close acquaintances … If you see that the behavior of someone from your environment has changed, this person has become silent, withdrawn into himself and is going through hard times, you can try to help. If you want to. If you empathize with him strongly enough to lend a helping hand. This is important, and here’s why.
To the question “How are you?” most often we expect to hear a neutral “Yes, it’s okay.” Deep down, we don’t really want to listen to someone’s problems. If someone talks about their troubles, you need to turn on and respond, and this requires a resource.
If you see that your colleague or acquaintance is “de-energized”, always remember an important rule. If you offer him help, you will have to do it.
And at the same time, spending a resource: finances – if you are asked to borrow money, time – if you need to take a person somewhere or make an appointment with a doctor. In any case, you will have to invest. Simply put, if the question is whether to help, then the answer is yes. Chances are you can do it, even if you’re not a close friend, spouse, or relative. But first, honestly answer yourself the question: are you ready?
Another important point: don’t take on too much.
If it is not about a loved one, your options are limited. Don’t live someone else’s life. Don’t try to be your best friend. Rather, treat it as if you were a professional and helping this person is your work project. Not so urgent, however, to refuse any other business.
What should you do
Let’s start with what you definitely shouldn’t do. You don’t need to grab a person, tell him in a penetrating voice: “I know everything”, press him to your chest and offer to cry … And you don’t even need to drag him to a party so that he unwinds. To get started, just find a quiet place where you can have a short conversation.
Do not start a conversation in a busy place or on the run. And always leave a way out for a person: do not insist on a conversation if you see that a person is avoiding you and not making contact. Even when the conversation has already started, he should always be able to stop it at any time. That is why, for example, it is bad to start such dialogues in public transport, even if you are going to the same station.
Say that you began to notice: the person is sad. No need to say: “You have huge circles under your eyes lately!” or “You eat all the time and you can’t stop!”. Don’t comment on his looks at all. Instead, make it clear that you’re worried and would like to help if the person tells you what’s bothering them.
If the interlocutor is not ready to speak, do not force, do not put pressure on him with phrases like: “No, well, I see that not everything is in order.” If he wants, he will tell, give the person freedom. He is an adult and will decide for himself whether to open up to you.
If he begins to share his misfortune with you, listen carefully, do not interrupt, do not pull the blanket over yourself (“Oh, yes, my cousin’s uncle had exactly the same as yours”). You may notice that it is difficult for a person to speak, he gets lost. Help, ask leading questions. Ask about what the person experienced at one time or another, suggest: “You must have been very scared?”, “Wow! It’s hard to feel…”
Okay. You have spoken. What’s next? Talk about solutions to the problem: for example, about psychotherapy. If you immediately mention a psychiatrist, you can push the person away.
Just say that you are ready to help in finding a specialist. You can even keep him company at the first visit to the doctor. That’s all.
We remind you that this is not about a close friend or a family member. One can imagine how seductive the role of the savior is. But remember: such assistance takes resources and rarely pays off. Take good stock of your strengths.
What does a depressed person want to hear?
Let’s discuss the wording, which, on the contrary, will support, encourage and show that you are there and ready to help.
Remember the old adage: “Don’t give a hungry fish, give him a fishing rod”? Complete nonsense. As with a hungry person, so with a depressed person. At best, he will burst into tears over this fishing rod, at worst, he will hang himself with a fishing line. Want to help? You will probably have to give the fish, and then put him in a boat and go to a psychotherapist.
– Do you want me to come?
This is not just an offer to keep company at a party. With these three words, a person explains: “You are important to me. I’m willing to cancel my plans to help you. I want to be there when you’re down.”
I’m not offended that you don’t reply to my messages. You can always text me when you’re ready.
“While I was depressed, it was physically difficult for me to maintain contact,” writes Nastya. — Hundreds of unanswered messages accumulated in my messengers — it was literally painful to look at them. People were worried about me, they asked me something, invited me for coffee or wine, and I stared blankly at the lines and could not answer. If you are writing to a person who is currently depressed, do not push him. It is much more important for him to know that you are there and will be patient.
– Do you want me to go with you?
For example, to a psychotherapist. If a person has not had such an experience before, a visit to the doctor may disturb him. He is uncomfortable, ashamed, and he also really wants to tell himself that this will not work anyway, and run away. So you will help a lot if you go with him.
– You are not a burden at all / I am not at all bored listening to you
Most likely, this is a lie, and a depressed person is well aware of how difficult it is for those around him – especially in the same territory. Lie. Say that your affection for him outweighs any difficulties. Some people in depression withdraw into themselves, others physically need to talk about their experiences. Both are normal, although talking is a healthier tactic than staying silent.
Although it’s hard for me to understand how you feel, know that I’m there.
It’s the most important. It is priceless to understand that someone is always ready to listen and support. Even if right now a depressed person does not know exactly how and what to ask.
– If someone you know or work colleague has a low mood all the time and you suspect that he needs help, start the conversation carefully. Don’t push if the person doesn’t want to talk about their problems. Just make it clear that you are there and ready to support (if you are really ready).
– Do not do more than you can: when it is not about your close friend or relative, all that remains is to listen and suggest where to find qualified help.
– If you want to help a person with depression, invite him to come or just say that you are there and always ready to help.