Anxiety is something that is not always comfortable to write about, but it’s a big part of my life. A few years ago, I was blogging about it a lot. And, I felt very vulnerable. And, some people in my life were very supportive, while others weren’t. It felt freeing to write about it, but at the same time, it opened me up to my worst nightmare. Criticism. I was not in a place emotionally to be able to handle those things, but I’ve come a long way since then.
The thing I needed most during that very difficult year was support. I didn’t always get it. But, I realized that some people just probably don’t have a ton of experiencing interacting with someone that is suffering from anxiety or depression. Perhaps they feel helpless, or awkward, and all they can seem to muster up is advice and their perspective on what that person should do. And, the result often backfires. The person who suffers from anxiety and depression feels misunderstood, and the one trying to give advice feels frustrated. Sound familiar?
For me, advice about changing my attitude or just focusing on the positive didn’t help. If it was that easy for me, I would have done it. I just wanted to feel loved, not judged. And, most of all, I just wanted to feel supported. One thing I hope everyone will take away is that you can be supportive without making suggestions or pointing out the obvious.
Here’s what NOT to do:
Don’t point out that someone “might be depressed” or that they might “have a chemical imbalance.”
Those are definitely things NOT to say. The truth is, most people who have ever suffered from depression, or anxiety, or stress know that they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress. That’s why they call it “suffering.”
Don’t talk about their issues with other people.
Don’t talk about it with them if you are not super close.
If you are a casual acquaintance and they’re not opening up to you about it on their own, things might be better left unsaid. (Unless you are afraid that they will hurt themselves or others.) If you aren’t close, it will definitely be awkward if you try.
So what SHOULD you do? Here are 10 Ways to show support for someone struggling with anxiety or depression:
1. A Phone Call to Just Say Hello.
2. Offer to babysit.
3. Take them out to do something fun.
4. Simply ask: “Are you OK?” Maybe they will say, “I’m fine” and you know they’re not. Here’s a hint: that’s code for, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Maybe they don’t want to talk about it in that moment. Maybe they just don’t want to talk about it with you. Maybe they just don’t want to talk about it with anyone. Don’t press the issue. Ask again another time if you think things are not getting better, but if they still refuse to talk? There is probably a reason. Unless you think they’re suicidal or abusing drugs (which isn’t always the case with people suffering from anxiety or depression), just leave it alone.
5. Show affection. Give them a hug, or even just an arm over a shoulder, and tell them something generic like, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I hope things get better soon”. Nothing else needs to be said.
6. Bring their favorite treat. For me, it would be a large diet coke and a box of chocolate. That will always make me feel loved.
7. Encourage. Write a note, send a text, or an email telling them one thing you admire about them. Building someone up is a far better alternative than suggesting things they can fix.
8. Talk about the person struggling, not yourself all the time. Show interest in their life outside of whatever they might be struggling with. Show that you care, and they might trust you more to open up later.
9. Do something that is out of your comfort zone. Stop worrying about whether it will be uncomfortable for you, and reach out to do something that you might not normally do.
10. Say, “That must be so hard” and nothing else. Don’t tell them to count their blessings. When someone is feeling depressed or anxious, that might make them feel guilty that they aren’t seeing the beauty in the world around them.
Mental health issues are invisible to the outsider, so it is difficult for those of us that “suffer” to talk about them. You may think we need to just pull up our bootstraps and cope, while we feel like it’s entirely out of our control.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by mostly loving and supportive people in my life. But, there are still many people that don’t realize I struggle with anxiety on a regular basis or refuse to take the time to understand what I deal with. If you want to be supportive, the thing your friend needs the most is love, friendship, and most importantly, non-judgment.