One of the most common questions we are asked at Lines of Love is, “My friend is depressed and I don’t know what to do. How can I help?”
The answer is pretty simple, but we can get overwhelmed with presumed responsibility of taking care of everything, and immediately. We look for the instant fix that is going to make everything better; in most cases, there is no instant fix, and our efforts are not going to take care of everything.
We need to shift our thinking away from being the sole answer to our friends’ needs and focus more on how we can contribute to helping them along the path toward wellness.
Here are ten things you can do to be that friend, to be that line of love to someone in need.
1. Acknowledge. One of the easiest things you can do is acknowledge to your friend that he or she has seemed distant or nor his or her “usual” self. Isolation or “alone time” is not what a friend usually needs in such times. Take the time to reach out, recognize that you have noticed a change in mood or behavior, and let the person know you care.
2. Listen. Allow your friend to talk, and without interruption. Keep your focus on them, not your phone, and look into their eyes when they talk. Show that you are listening without judgment. Demonstrate that you are not trying to solve their problems. Just listen. For many, this is the only way they know how to “get it out” and to manage what is happening to them. When they are sharing, be fully present as a listener; you don’t need to be anything else (nor do they want you to be).
3. Understand. When you do respond, share that you understand what they are feeling and what they have expressed. Don’t try to solve, and don’t try to dig deeper with questions that might sound judgmental or even condescending. If you have a story to share that will help your friend understand your empathy, share it — but again, without trying to solve anything or sounding like your situation was worse (“You think YOU got it bad…listen to THIS.”). It’s not a competition; it’s just an acknowledgment that you understand, and they are not alone.
4. Stay Close. We have never been more connected, locally and globally — and yet, there are times when we have never felt more isolated. Provide your contact information, if your friend does not already have it, and check in with them on a routine basis. Sometimes, random texts and messages of positivity or just checking in can make a world of difference. Don’t hesitate to reach out and let them know that you are there, thinking of them.
5. Have Patience. Just because you have acknowledged, listened, understood, and stayed close, it doesn’t mean that your friend will now have a happy life of wellness, 24/7. Remember: You are not a solution; you are a contributor and supporter toward a healthy lifestyle. There will be ups and downs, and your friend will need you to be there regardless of how good or bad things might seem. Abandon the idea that it is a quick fix; friends are there for the long journey.
6. Encourage Wellness. Taking a friend out for a night of fun at the local club is not necessarily what he or she needs. Alcohol and drug use does not solve the problem; it intensifies it. Any temporary “relief” that might come from alcohol or drug use ultimately produces the same — often more severe — negative effect on that person. Instead of manipulating the mind and body with alcohol and drugs, find healthy alternatives that will provide long-lasting effects that promote wellness and independence.
7. Know (and share) Your Numbers. There are local, state, and national crisis centers and hotlines that are meant for both those who are struggling and those who have a friend who is in need. The National Crisis Hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For a longer list of crisis numbers and centers, check out this earlier post on how to get immediate help. Share these numbers with your friend. Let them know that there is always somebody available, ready to listen.
8. Suggest Professional Assistance. In addition to providing local and national crisis hotlines, remind your friend of the professional resources that are currently available, including counselors, counseling and intervention centers, wellness classes and sessions, and school or work assistance centers or services. Many of these are free, covered by insurance, or require only a small or nominal fee. Make sure your friend knows that such assistance is not a replacement for you being there; it is just another collaborative partner on this journey toward wellness.
9. Empower With Positivity And Wellness Tools. Walking outdoors is one of the best activities you can do with a friend who is struggling with depression. Listening to appropriate music or reading materials that promote positive or uplifting lifestyles is another way to surround yourself with stimuli that encourage control, positivity, and overall wellness. Identify the triggers for depression or mental illness, and help you your friend remove them from his or her lifestyle. Crushing lyrics about being alone, books with depressed individuals as the central characters, and even videos or games that foster negativity can all contribute to an unhealthy way of living. Recognize the negative or stress triggers, and replace them with positive, motivating stimuli.
10. Be A Line Of Love. Educate yourself about depression, mental illness, and anxiety so that you can have a better understanding of what others might be going through, and so you can help others remove the stigma attached to mental illness. Be aware of programs and events in your area that might be beneficial to others (AFSP walks is one good example). Check through our own ways at Lines of Love to let others know that they are not alone (our Bracelet Makers program continues to be one of our most popular ways people can get involved).
Being a friend to someone in need is not hard; the benefits they reap from your kindness and understanding, however, might be life-changing. Don’t hesitate to be a Line of Love. Share these ten tips to help with others, and encourage them to be Lines of Love for the people in their own lives.