Depression is a mental event, largely invisible to the inquiring eye. We see the effects on behavior, but the emotional turmoil of this mood disorder is hidden. For this reason, communication is important – you need to understand as much as possible what’s going on to be helpful.
Communication starts with expressing a willingness to help. Perhaps surprisingly, many who are depressed are ashamed of their condition and see it as a personal failure. They may feel embarrassed and afraid to ask for help. By offering, you are saying you know something is out of sorts and are willing to lend a hand.
Avoid being pushy. You may think you have just the solution and only need to convince your friend or loved one to go along. Being too aggressive can have the opposite effect though. You don’t want them to just push you away. The rule is support without an agenda.
The depressed person may feel they don’t deserve your consideration. The condition can make them irritable, angry or even combative. Reassure them that you aren’t going anywhere, that your friendship and support is not conditioned on them acting on their best behavior. Let them know you understand when, “It’s just the anxiety/depression talking.”
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Remember that feelings of isolation are part of the disease. The anxious and depressed will feel that no one understands or can understand. By being a stable presence, you give them an anchor and they will be more likely to open up to you. Be careful about going “judgmental.” Unless you are a trained therapist, even knowing from whence their problem arises won’t help you guide them through it. Psychology is a profession for a reason – but you don’t have to be a medical professional to be a friend.
Take their side
The “me against the world” part of being depressed will cycle through withdrawal and an even deeper depression. If you can take their side and act as a buffer between them and what has become overwhelming, you then have a chance to move them away from this pit of despair.
Others will tell them, directly or by how they act, that depression isn’t a “real” thing and the depressed person should just use willpower to get past it. This can make the victim defensive as they react to what amounts to accusations. For example, when they don’t feel like they have enough energy to complete what would otherwise be a normal task, the depressed person will expect others to react badly. Don’t do this. If you can take their side and see things through their eyes, it will enhance your credibility and work toward building trust.
When they are making a categorical error, that’s the time to use the trust you’ve built to gently contradict them. “Everyone is out to get me,” is countered with “I am not out to get you, I am on your side.” You take their side, not by agreeing with everything, but by trying to understand their point of view.