Ok, I’d like to stress straight off: this is my opinion. You probably have a different one. That’s fine. Feel free to wade in with a comment.
I really hate the constant “talk to someone” prompts for anyone who’s struggling with depression.
I know why it’s important. I know why it’s said. Yes, it’s absolutely freakin’ important to get people who think they can’t admit to being sad or weak or tired or simply Not _____ Enough to actually express it. That’s huge.
But I am also really, really tired of people telling me that talking helps. For anyone with long-term, frequent depression, ordinary talking does f*** all.
There is a reason that I keep extremely quiet about my personal life and thoughts during day-to-day interactions, and it’s because very few people are happy to have “well, this morning I analysed three different ways of killing myself and wondered how awful today was going to be” in answer to “Hi, how are you today?”
People do not want an honest answer. People do not understand and frankly don’t have time for an honest answer, and it is really, really scary to have someone give you an honest answer when they’re struggling with depression or mental health issues.
The problem is that the default human reaction seems to be “try to make it better” which. Does. Not. Help. I have tried CBT – it actually made me worse, because the overarching commentary is that this is My Fault, and I should be able to fix my own head just by thinking differently. I go for walks. I take care of myself. I have anti-depressants. Yes, I am doing things. It doesn’t necessarily help. No one can ‘cure’ me. No one can make me better. No one really has any practical or helpful solutions because there aren’t any.
Please don’t offer advice. Just let me be sad. Let me hurt. I’m not well today; I’ll be better tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that.
If you really want to help, and you really want to talk to me? (And please, honestly analyse whether you can do that without offering advice and ‘solutions’). Reassure me that you are asking how I actually am, you are willing to not judge and not offer advice, and just listen.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean listening to them talk. It means asking what’s going to help, or listening to the unspoken words.
The best thing you can do for someone with depression isn’t talk to them. It’s reassure them that you do care, that you do like them, that you do want to hang out with them – even if today and tomorrow and the next day they’re not feeling up to it, maybe the day after that they will feel they can face the world – and do your best to make them realise there is a world out there and it does want them to be part of it.
It’s scary, yes. It’s really hard to hear that someone you like is hurting badly enough to want to remove themselves from this life. It’s hard to understand. It is really, really difficult to know what to say, or what to do, or how to express sympathy. It is really, really hard to be a friend to someone who sees the world in shades of grey instead of colour and can’t cope with the basics of interaction without occasionally bursting into tears. I know that. I am friends with people who suffer from depression, too. I know.
But it’s hard for me, too. I live through this, and believe me, if it’s hard for you to listen to it’s guaranteed to be just as hard for me to cope with! By interacting, by telling me that you’re there for me – in whatever way you do that – and by just reminding me that the world is out there and waiting for me to be human again, you’re reminding me that I am human. That I can be ok, and that I will be ok, even if I’m not right now.
You can make me tea. You can tell me about your holiday. You can ask what I’m reading at the moment. You can talk to me about Star Wars. You can ask how I’m feeling; honestly, and non-judgementally. You can recommend a really good walk you took the other day. I’m always happy to listen to people, even if I struggle to talk; I’m always happy to be given a cup of tea and a cat, or a stuffed toy, and to hear about something that makes you happy.
It means I have someone on my side. It means I have someone standing next to me, who maybe doesn’t entirely understand what I’m going through, but is willing to help.
Depression is lonely, and talking is only the first step. The best thing you can do is listen.