So far, in our classroom on caring for a friend with depression, we have covered how to: spot depression in a friend, talk them about it and how to help them find help and go through treatment. This final lesson we will address two important topics. Firstly, how to respond if you believe your friend is at risk of suicide. Secondly, how to look after your own mental health when caring for someone with depression. Most of us don’t like to like to think about the idea that one of our close friend’s would even consider suicide. However, educating yourself about how to respond could help you save a life. With fast-paced Beijing life it is easy to get stressed and low anyway. The added stresses from caring for someone with depression can have severe toll on mental health. These guidelines can help you look after your mental health in a proactive way.
Lesson 6.3 Caring for a friend with depression- reacting to suicide/crisis situations
Be aware of the risk signs of suicide. Knowing common signs that someone is suicidal can help you know when to act. Remember different people show different signs of being in a crisis state and for some the signals may be more subtle. Trust your gut feeling and if you think something is wrong take action.
If you believe your friend is at an immediate risk of suicide, do NOT leave them alone! Call emergency services as your friend may need to be admitted to hospital.
In their 2016 national suicide awareness month campaign the American organization also suggest 5 evidence based actions for responding to a friend in crisis.
Ask: Ask your friend directly if they are considering suicide. Many people worry about putting the idea of suicide in someone’s head, but studies show asking about suicidal thoughts does not increase risk of suicide (e.g. Mathias et al., 2012).
Be there: Talk to your friend about their suicidal feelings “listen without judgement and with compassion and empathy”. You can go Classroom 6.1 for more info on this.
Follow up: contacting and checking in with a friend in the days and weeks after a crisis can help reduce the chance of suicide. Try to contact them on a regular basis.
Help them connect: help your friend reach out to a support system such as therapists, helplines, friends or family.
Keep them safe: If your friend is feeling suicidal. Ask if they have thought about how they would do it. Keep them away from anything they have thought about harming themselves with.
Looking after yourself
To conclude our final lesson we are going to bring you some guidelines for how to balance caring for a friend with looking after your own mental health. “Is it selfish to focus on my wellbeing while my friend is suffering with depression?” Actually, looking after your own mental health is one of the most important things a carer can do. It’s easy for carers to become over stressed and face burnout. To give your friend the best support you can it is important to be proactive about looking after your own wellbeing.
Be realistic about what you can do: As much as you would like to, you cannot “fix” someone else’s depression. You are not responsible for your friend’s mood, good or bad.
Set boundaries: Although you want to help you can’t look after your friend all the time. Set clear limits about what you are able to do for your friend so you don’t get overwhelmed. It’s very important not to burn yourself out and make sure you take a break when you need!
Get support: Many people caring for a friend with depression find talking to someone they trust about their experiences the most important step for protecting their mental wellbeing. Although be aware you might want to be careful about how much information you share about the friend you’re supporting.
This brings to an end our lesson 6 on caring for a friend with depression. The chapter will be structured in three parts.
Lesson 6.1 we talk about spotting the signs and talking about your friend’s depression.
Lesson 6.2 we discuss helping your friend seek help and supporting them through treatment.
Lesson 6.3 we conclude with responding to suicide/crisis situations and looking after your own wellbeing while caring for a friend.
We hope that the lesson has given you the tools to help you respond proactively if your friend ever faces depression and to know that however small your impact feels the support you give to your friend can make a world of difference.