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Lesson 6.2: Caring for a Friend with Depression- Helping a Friend to Find Help

If you follow CandleX’s Depression story column you may have read “In the moment of Blur | Sam’s story with Depression”. In his story Sam remembers his friend who ended her own life after severe depression. He recalls that his friend mentioned she was trying to see a counselor, but never did. In her last words his friend apologized for not being able to bring herself to get therapy. Sam’s story shows that even when people with depression want to seek help they sometimes need the extra support and momentum from their loved ones to take the step. In Beijing, we believe each of us have a few friends who experience different level of depression. Some may make you feel baffled, while others have signaled to you. Nonetheless, giving this support can be the most important thing you can do for your friend. Welcome back to this chapter, “Caring for a Friend”. We divided it into 3 parts:

  • Lesson 6.1 talks about spotting the signs and talking about your friend’s depression.

  • Lesson 6.2 discusses helping your friend seek help and supporting them through treatment.

  • Lesson 6.3 concludes the series by responding to suicide/crisis situations and also how to look after your own wellbeing while caring for a friend.

Todays lesson is Lesson 6.2. We will focus on how to help a friend find help and then how to support them through recovery. As mentioned in the previous lesson, the best way to support your friend depends on their personality and your unique relationship. However there are general guidelines to help you approach the situation and we have compiled them in this lesson.

Helping a friend to find help

Here are some practical ways to help your friend take the first steps to getting support.

  • Encourage your friend to find help: Reassure your friend that it is OK to ask for help, there is help available and let them know that you can support them in finding it.

  • If they are reluctant: Try and discuss your friend’s concerns. Remind them of the impact their depression is having on their life and how treatment could help. If your friend seems determined not to seek help you could try encouraging them to see a doctor for specific physical problems associated with their depression (e.g. sleeplessness, headaches or lack of appetite). Addressing these issues with a doctor can make people more comfortable discussing emotional issues.

  • Remember you can’t force anyone to get help: You can encourage your friend to get help but at the end of the day it’s their decision, not yours. If you believe you friend is a danger to themselves, see Lesson 6.3 which will discuss responding to suicide/crisis situations.

  • Help your friend to find and book an appointment: People with depression often feel exhausted so finding the right doctor or service for them can seem overwhelming. Helping your friend research the services in their area and booking an appointment is a great way to help.

  • Write answers to questions the doctor/counsellor may ask: Help your friend make a list of bullet point answers to key questions such as: How long have you been feeling this way? What symptoms/ feelings have you been having? Have you ever had depression before? This can help your friend feel more prepared and is helpful if they have difficulty expressing their feelings to a stranger.

  • Offer to accompany them to the appointment: Going for a first appointment can be very nerve racking so, if you can, offer to go with your friend even if it’s just to sit in the waiting room. If your work schedule means you can’t physically accompany your friend try making plans to see them later that day, call them before they go or even send an encouraging text.

Support a friend through treatment

  • Check in: You can offer emotional support by asking your friend about their progress, mood and how they are finding their treatment plan. Try not to get frustrated when things aren’t going well. The path to recovery may not be easy and your friend may need to try different treatment options to find what works for them. Help your friend acknowledge small steps and achievements they have made.

  • Try to help with practicalities: Depression can lead to fatigue so offering help with practical things is important. Ask your friend if there are any specific tasks you could help them with. For example: helping with a household task or organizing childcare.

Talk about things other than depression: chatting about everyday topics outside depression is important to give your friend a feeling of normality and prevent your relationship becoming solely focused on their mental health problem.

  • Encourage socializing and activity: try to keep your friend involved in social events and invite them to mood lifting activities (e.g. going to a funny film or out to eat). Exercise is also very beneficial so help your friend get moving (e.g. going for a walk together). If your friend is severely depressed these activities may seem out of reach. In that case, focus on smaller activities, e.g helping prepare a meal. Try not to get discouraged if your friend says no, be gently and kindly persistent and don’t stop asking. In CandleX’s mental health support group in Beijing, new members often report being caught in a cycle of social isolation. When their depression began they started to say no to friend’s invitations. Eventually their friends stopped inviting them at all. It is unlikely your friend will take up every offer but if they actually come to 1 event in 5. That 1 time can help them with connect to friends and stay active which is essential for healing

  • Attend a local Peer Support Group: Attending mental health support group is a good way to build a social network in a safe environment with compassion and empathy. It helps the healing process to go smoother, and reduce the psychological burden one experiences. The power of connection among new friends can also help preventing relapse that occurs when life situation changes. Send them this poster, and encourage them to come to our bi-weekly mental health support group.

Please email for information and registration.

That concludes our second lesson on supporting a friend with depression. The next lesson cover the key issues of how best to help a friend in a suicide/crisis situation and how to look after your own wellbeing while caring for someone with depression.

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