Finding Greatness
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Finding Greatness

How to Actually Help People in Depression/Loneliness Crises

From someone who has been on both sides.

Image by Jusdevoyage from Unsplash

But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
But something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day

Judy Collins, Both Sides Now

On May 12, a 25-year-old man in Maharashtra, India, killed himself, citing loneliness in the suicide note. There doesn’t seem to be much else known, but at the same time, a lot already is known. This is not new in the age of coronavirus. Young adults just starting out take their life before it has had a chance to really start. It may seem confusing why. He possibly didn’t have a good support circle. even before the pandemic. Then the pandemic just accentuated it.

The media doesn’t help either. Even with all the new emphasis on mental health, I find much of it still misses the point. People of all genders, sexual orientations, previous life experiences, socioeconomic statuses, even previous mental health histories, can have mental health crises. The way I know this is I am learning this the hard way right now. However, I also have been in several situations where I had friends with severe mental illness, to varying degrees. It includes situations with varying degrees of how much they could be helped by friends, and how much they needed a professional.

For those who are familiar with my other articles, I am purposely going to save the lengthy existentialism for other articles, so you can have a quick resource for what to do now:

1.) Don’t wait for them to tell you they are idealizing or suicidal

At that point, you have waited too long, as it is very hard to come back once someone is to that point. This also relies too much on someone having the self-worth to say so. I at least thought I deserved to have friends and family, but some people don’t even have that and are unlikely to reach out. If you have a friend that you know lives alone, or is estranged from family, just text them occasionally or call them. It may seem trivial to you, but it may stave off another day of crippling depression for them.

2.) If you cannot actually get back to them, don't say you will.

I have read and heard a lot of conflicting opinions on this actually. It mostly has to do with the validity of the “I am just very busy” excuse or reason. Honestly, I am still not sure what I think about this…. I have had people who got back to me immediately when I would call or text them but clearly had my well-being at the bottom of their priority list. Then I have had people who would be very hard to get ahold of, but when they did, were better listeners than the vast majority of people and really suggested good solutions (and didn’t do number 3). So I am not sure what my opinion is at this time. What I am sure about is the existential terror of having 3 or 4 different people who say they will keep in contact with you, but then if you don’t contact them, or even if you do, you don’t hear from them, or anybody, for weeks at a time. Even the best of intentions feels like aloofness at these times. In these difficult moments, I actually find myself most appreciating the people who told me outright I probably would not hear from them for weeks at a time. We have our main circle of family and close friends, then the circle outside of that that are good friends who we see occasionally but don’t take priority over the inner circle. Then we have the outer circle from that — co-workers, acquaintances, and the like. These people really only see a brief, curated version of us. The reality is that not everyone, or even many, can be in that most inner circle (we have all seen those that try). Only so many even still can be in that second circle. Leaving someone in limbo with where they are is one of those normalized things in our society that is a little psychopathic when you stop and think about it. So I figure, tell me how much you really will (not intend) keep in touch with me. It is okay if you can’t or won’t. Repeat after me: It is okay. It lets the sufferer in question move onto more sustainable people and solutions for quelling their loneliness. That is not nearly as bitter as it may sound on the first read — I believe transparency is compassion.

3.) Don’t call or text them just to lecture

The important thing here is to understand people as they understand themselves. What this means is to really take the time to understand why they have made the decisions they have that lead them up to this point. I cannot tell you the number of well-meaning co-workers, teachers, and friends that lectured me for an hour on what to do and not to do to attempt to relieve my station of being lonely, or in an abusive job or home situation without first asking a single question of what it was like, well, just to be me. Some of them would even find out after that hour of “advice” that it really didn’t apply to me because of X or Y.

4.) Do suggest therapists/psychiatrists, but be sensitive to their financial situation and beliefs.

Admittedly I don’t know what this looks like outside of the U.S., so I apologize in advance for the usual ethnocentrism. with the current pandemic this is almost too obvious, but have you actually looked at prices for therapy when you don’t have insurance (or sometimes even if you do)? That being said, check in the area. For example, the county I am in has a grant for therapy that allows for a pay-what-you-can model. It is also worth noting here that just because a certain therapist or mental solution worked for you, doesn’t mean it will work for others. I actually had a therapist pushed on me that was a family friend, who turned out later to likely be homophobic and prone to victim-blaming.

5.) Don’t try to be a hero and save people.

This is definitely something I have been on both sides of. I am not proud of the times I tried to be a de facto therapist, but I understand why I did it. So much of the conversation around mental health makes it sounds like everyone can help everyone, and even if not, what is the harm? There is real harm. It was common practice in my college for people to try to “treat” their friends or just work things out with the college counselors. They would accompany them, and you could see on their face how proud they were to be “that friend”. Don’t be that friend. Conditions like suicidal ideation and substance dependency have expertise dedicated just to them for a reason. The harsh reality of this point is that you may have to potentially alienate the depressed person by telling them you cannot help them. Sometimes all you can do is get them a list of resources and then leave. Life is not a TV series or a movie where the power of love saves people’s lives literally, and you are no protagonist.

6.) Help them create things.

From personal experience, and also from talking to others who have suffered depression and loneliness better and worse than mine: creation is happiness. I believe humans are creators by nature. I know my pandemic-induced slump was reduced and sometimes eliminated by cooking and learning new technologies with friends. There is no way to make a friend do anything, mind you. But if you are concerned about a friend but they will not talk about emotions directly, maybe invite them to a new meet-up or wine-and-painting event you have been wanting to try. It is more than just passing the time, it is about helping them find meaning in their time.

I hope this article helps somebody. I know I was skeptical of online mental health articles for a long time — they often read the same. I hope this gives more individual advice, from someone who has seen it from both sides now.

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Shelby Elzinga

Shelby Elzinga

THE scooter girl. Jill of all trades. Mostly best at failing at tech. Needs to get better at writing bios.