What happens when your friend is having a depression episode…
First off, a depression episodes are NOT fun. We are unable to do things, and we watch helplessly as projects we are doing fail. We can’t even do personal or home maintenance. We stop going out and meeting people because we can’t get out of the house and because we become afraid of people.
During the depression episode, your friend will feel guilty that they aren’t reliable or strong enough to stop their tasks from failing. They will feel that the world is closing in and that nothing will ever be good in their lives again, that people are angry with them, and that they are terrible, useless, worthless people.
None of the above are our fault. They are the symptoms of depression, just the same way a runny nose and sneezing are the symptoms of the flu. We can’t stop what happens by thinking differently or positively any more than you can stop your runny nose just by thinking about it. We can’t take action to fix the depression because we can’t do things, and the drugs / medications we take may or may not work.
Depression is a traumatic process.
What happens when your friend comes out of a depression episode…
When we come out of a depression episode, we are fragile. The emotional effects linger – we may be up and about, but for the first 2-3 weeks, we still feel worthless and we still feel everyone wants to shout at us.
Then there are the practical aspects – we now have to rush around to pay late bills, weed the overgrown garden, contact the office to apologise for being absent, clean the very messy house, try to see which tasks or projects can be restarted and which should just be abandoned, and try to repair all the broken social connections.
If the depression episode last 3-4 weeks, it can take your friend another 3-4 weeks AFTER the episode to repair the damage that was done. Some things will never be caught up on.
What do you do when you meet a friend who’s been depressed?
You might have known your friend had a depression episode and you are seeing them for the first time since then. Or you didn’t know your friend was depressed and you say to them “I haven’t seen you for a while,” and your friend responds with the honest “I just had a depression episode that lasted 3 weeks and I was out of commission. Sorry.”
DO NOT SAY THIS (and it’s what I hear the most)
“You know that if you need me [when you are depressed], all you have to do is call….I am here for you!”
Here’s why it’s not helpful: I know you are there for me and I trust you, but when I’m depressed I can’t call you because, you know, I’m depressed and can’t reach out to people. I know you’re willing to support me, but I can’t actually pick up the phone to call you.
You are telling me to do something that’s impossible. I know your comment is well meaning and from your heart, but after I’ve heard the same (useless) advice from many friends over a 5 day period, it starts to grate on my nerves, and part of me thinks – “Can’t you people actually be helpful!“
Say these things instead!
“Depression is a bitch, isn’t it.”
I’m good with some sympathy from you. And having a depression episode really is a bitch.
“Good to see you back.”
A non-judgmental comment and maybe even a hug makes me feel welcome. I don’t feel as if I’ve dropped off your charts or your interest.
“Is there anything that I can do NOW to make you life a bit easier?”
There is SO much that I need to catch up on! Maybe I won’t take you up on you offer, but I really appreciate you asking if you can help me get my life back in order now that I’m no longer depressed.
If I take you on your offer for help…
If I do take you up on your offer, it’s likely that I’ll ask you to deal with other people on my behalf. I might ask you to call up the electricity utility to find out what my bill amount is, or I might ask you contact the appliance person to reschedule a missed repair appointment on my behalf, or I might ask you to keep me company to go to the grocery, or a dinner, or a gathering of friends, or an art exhibit I’m invited to.
Remember, I’m still having problems with dealing with people. You might think that I should be strong and just talk with the people, but these things you find easy are very hard for me to do at the moment.
I’m NOT allowed to take advantage of your offer to get you to sweep my house, mow the lawn, etc. You can help if you think it will make a dramatic difference to my well being (but most things don’t). Consider keeping me company instead of doing it for me. I do not get to manipulate your goodwill and your kindness.
Bring me up to date with friends and family and events I missed out on
It’s also nice if you could bring me up to date with what others have been doing. Remember, I’ve been out of touch. Once you’ve sympathised that depression is indeed a bitch, don’t ask about the depression. Instead tell me what has been happening.
Talk to me about the birthday party I missed last Friday evening, or what has been going on in school that I missed out on, or which movies I should go see and which movies I should skip, or remind me that I should tell Frank and Anne happy anniversary next time I see them. When you do this, you reconnect me to my day to day life.
Don’t ask me what the depression episode was like, yet.
I may eventually want to talk about the depression episode, but that’s a conversation that I’d prefer do sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, your best help would be to continue what you were doing before I showed up and include me in it. I’ll fall in line with what you are doing. Being able to do what you do, being normal like everyone else, is the best help I can get.
- If your friend is out of contact and might be having a depression episode, here’s what you might do.
- Here’s what it feels like to be depressed: Eighteen symptoms of Depression.
For bipolar and depressed persons…
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, it is very useful to let your close friends and family know. When you tell them, you widen the number of people who will support you, and you make it easier to talk honestly about your mood swings and the problems they cause.
major update 16 Jan 19
first published 2 Aug 18
Some help, please
Articles like this need your input. In the comments below, can you:
1. Tell me what happens to you that I did not write about.
2. Tell me if I wrote stuff that is wrong or incomplete.
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Looking forward to your help.