I’m not fine!

What to do when a friend with depression reaches out to you

I’m tired of saying “I’m fine.” I’ve decided I’m going to start reaching out. But people often struggle with how to respond to a call for support - I know that anticipating this question at their end stops me from reaching out to most of my friends. So I decided to put together a list of dos and don’ts for when a friend with depression reaches out to you —

  1. Understand that it takes a certain amount of courage and willingness to feel what you’re feeling and reach out. It isn’t easy to pick up the phone and say “hey, I’m not doing too good.” Sometimes, it is easier not to verbalize it because that puts a layer of insulation between you and what you’re feeling.
  2. Sometimes (or at most times), the people you’re closest to are the hardest to reach out to. You don’t have an explanation for what you’re feeling, and it might not align with the side/part of you they know. Barring one person, my closest friends don’t associate me with the person struggling to stay afloat. Reaching out to them means putting their idea of me and my idea of me under the kind of scrutiny I might not want or be ready for.
  3. Try not to ask what happened. How does one respond to that? My internal chemistry is a little out of whack? I don’t know what happened? Nothing happened, but I feel miserable? Imagine, you’re already feeling miserable, and having to say I don’t know why I’m feeling like that — makes you feel like you really don’t have your shit together. When you’re struggling with depression, nothing ‘needs’ to happen. There’s an internal dynamic at play that is beyond your or my understanding.
  4. Don’t tell me to snap out of it, or to be stronger, or to control my mind or to focus on the positives, or some variation of the above. Refer to point above — there are internal dynamics at play beyond our control and understanding. If I could snap out of it, trust me I would. I don’t enjoy this. And trust me when I say I am constantly trying to cope and get better at it. Reaching out is one of those ways.
  5. Being there doesn’t mean you need to solve what I’m going through. Listen. Talk. If I seem hesitant to share something that’s weighing on me, and you’re willing and empathetic enough to want to give support, then prod a little. Make it comfortable to share, because reaching out in itself is way outside our comfort zones.
  6. However, if you don’t have a well of empathy to draw from to be supportive (it’s okay, we’ve all been there), then feel free to step away. Honesty goes a long way. It is better than pretending to be there. Don’t pretend.
  7. Don’t take advantage of someone struggling with depression or going through a depressive phase in their life.
  8. Hugs are always welcome. Warm, tight, genuine hugs.
  9. Some of the most giving people I know have fought some of the biggest battles against depression. They give, but they also need. Be there for them if you can.
  10. If you care enough, make yourself aware about how to support someone going through depression. Because most of what you do instinctively can be counterproductive. Read up, understand, and if you’re not sure, then ask the person how they’d like you to support them

We don’t ask. We don’t want to trouble or bother you with what we’re going through. We don’t have explanations. But we need support.