How do I be there for someone in the depths of depression?

Hi Hannah,

I have a best friend who is in deep, deep depression right now. She doesn't open up to many people about it, but she's entrusted me with the truth about what's happening behind her Instagram life. I love that she has entrusted me with that truth, but I want to be honest with you and say sometimes it's really hard.   When she's depressed, she turns inward. Her life can only revolve around her darkness, and I can't blame her for it. I try to help her see anything else, but she gets mad at me for not understanding her situation. She's treating people around her like they don't matter, and since I'm the only one who knows what's going on, they are leaving her because they're being hurt by her. This makes her spiral down further.   I don't know how to be her therapist, which she says she can't see because she can't get out of bed. I can only be her friend, believing in her to fight for her life, but she's done fighting. She's decided that she's depressed, and negative, and unworthy. She's decided the world is against her, even when I'm standing there trying to fight for her.   My question to you is, how do I be there for someone in the depths of depression? How do I give hope to someone who feels hopeless? How do I point her to baby steps, when she's already decided they won't lead her anywhere good?   Sincerely,    W-


Sweet W-

The thing I want to speak over your life before writing anything else: you are a good friend. A dang good friend. On the days where darkness tries to tell you any differently, you are a good friend. You are compassionate. You are brave. You are doing the best you can.

You're not a lifeboat. This isn't "all on you." 

I know I don't need to sugarcoat what it can be like to walk with someone through depression. You've already seen it. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like walking. It feels like standing still while the person you love pitches a tent in the darkness and cannot seem to pack up the camping gear and keep moving forward. This is the hardest. As people, we want to do everything we can to take the pain away. We want to heal the wounds. We want to be like God but we are stuck with the reality that our hands are small and our need is too big.

Be okay with not understanding all of it.

Your friend might say some negative and hopeless things during this time. It can be frustrating. The best thing I can tell you is to become okay with not understanding the view from where's she standing.

To her, things feel darker. Things feel hopeless. To people who have depression, it often feels like your mind is a small prison with no windows, doors, or natural light. It is much harder to muster up the energy to just be grateful or just praise God. Words don't act like balm for very long. Our thoughts take us down and they take us to a depth inside of us that we hoped was not possible.

You don't have to experience this (and I hope you never do). You don't even have to fully understand it. You just tell yourself, "this is very real to my friend. I don't see it but I acknowledge all the things she's telling me." Listen. Nod your head. Validate and encourage. Speak light and love over her and remind her that the darkness doesn't get to win her.

Remind her, through action, that she's necessary.

That's one of the biggest fears of a depressed person: I'm not necessary. It doesn't matter that I'm here. People don't need me.

And sadly, we often treat depressed people as if they are sick, incapable and unreliable. One of the best things my friends ever did for me during my time of depression gave me reasons to be accountable. They asked me to join them for grocery shopping. They asked for help with tasks. One friend was returning to school after years of being a stay-at-home mom and she asked me to help her shop for school supplies. These small things might seem trivial but it was better than being treated as if I could not get out of bed and help someone else.

Depression is a self-obsessing illness and so any invitation you extend for someone to exit their own head is a good one. There might be resistance at first but asking someone to be accountable for small tasks is incredibly uplifting for someone who feels they don't serve a purpose.

Remind her, through words, of the truth.

She might not believe you. The words might not soak in. But you can combat her negative talk with the truth. When she texts to say she is unworthy or not good enough, you can come back and say, "I know you think that is a reality right now. I know it feels so real but you are _____________. You have always been ____________________."

Remind her of who she was (and is) when she is doing her best. Remind her she's a great cook. That she's fantastic at seeing at others. That she is hilarious. Whatever the best attributes are, the things that made you want to be her friend in the first place, call them out. Call your friend up to better views of herself. Again, she might not always receive those words but you can still say them.

Depression tries, with all its strength, to give a person a new name. Unworthy. Unnecessary. Pointless. The most valuable gift you can give a depressed person is a reminder of who they really are, who they were so proud to be before the darkness entered in.

But don't be a doormat.

This is important and I don't say it lightly: Depression is not an excuse to treat another human poorly. No person is perfect and so there may be moments of failure and forgiveness but if you consistently treat people poorly and blame it on depression, that's not the true culprit.

If I was mean or unkind during my times of depression, I would expect my friends to call me out and call me up to a level of respect. Depression is not a "get out of jail free" card and you should be hyper-sensitive to those who treat it as such. People are still expected to say sorry when they are depressed-- even it takes some time and perspective.

Even with depression, a person still has to do the work of stepping outside themselves to see other people and be kind. Depression isn't an excuse to be a mean person.

You cannot play the role of therapist to your friend. You can absolutely say, "I know you're tired and defeated and I am ready to drive you to therapy." You can serve someone but you cannot take the steps for them.

Your friend may lose friends. That's a harsh reality. Your friend might spiral as a result. This is not your cross to bear and it's also not a reason why you should accept being the doormat. You have feelings, too. You have value, too. You deserve respect, too.

Take care of yourself. Place up boundaries and maybe even tell your friend you're placing up boundaries. It's important and the response might not be favorable but boundaries exist out of love and the preservation of people.

Fill yourself up.

On that note, be good to yourself. You can't love and serve others if you're exhausted, depleted or self-sacrificing to a fault. Your health matters.

It's okay if you need to step away. It's okay if you need a night off. It's okay if you need more boundaries. Don't get swallowed up by the belief that you can save everyone-- it won't work.

How do you give hope to someone who feels hopeless? You keep putting hope on for yourself. Every single day. You strengthen your own heart and your own soul with hope so that you don't become depleted. You extend hope to others in your life as well. You make hope your anthem rather than mustering up hope for someone who has an empty tank. There is nothing wrong with wanting to extend hope to someone who is missing it but you must cultivate hope for your own soul and wellbeing, first. Only when we take care of ourselves can we healthily care for the others.

Like many of the things I write about in this space, this conversation takes a village. I am just one voice. If you could please, take the time to write W a message of your own. I know she will be reading. Thank you in advance.