Sandra noticed her close friend Abby was not returning text messages or calls. Abby recently canceled a plan with Sandra at the last minute. She’d also stopped playing racquetball at the gym. The one time Sandra and Abby did meet for coffee in the past month, Abby complained about how life was getting her down.
This was not the Abby that Sandra knew and loved. Over the following weeks, Sandra’s concern for Abby mounted. Sandra went into overdrive to try to make Abby feel better. Nothing she did seemed to help, and Sandra was beginning to feel frustrated and exhausted herself. After speaking with her counselor about Abby, Sandra acknowledged that Abby might be depressed and it was beyond Sandra’s ability to make her friend feel differently. Her counselor helped Sandra work out a way to discuss her concerns with Abby.
Why Is It so Challenging to Help Someone With Depression?
One reason is that the very nature of depression makes it hard for people to seek support. As was Sandra’s experience with Abby, people often withdraw when they are depressed. It’s difficult for them to tell you what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way. You can show support and help someone with depression by:
- Knowing the signs
- Listening with empathy
- Setting boundaries
- Encouraging them to seek professional help
Knowing the Signs of Depression
Abby was exhibiting most of the classic symptoms of depression. Abby had little interest in doing the things she normally liked to do. Additionally, she complained about feeling down, depressed, and hopeless. Abby mentioned she was having trouble sleeping, but then also said she had problems finding the energy to crawl out of bed in the morning. What alarmed Sandra the most is that Abby had begun to say that she would be better off dead.
Listen with Empathy and Presence
A common complaint among people who are feeling depressed is that no one understands what they’re going through. Often, they’re told to “suck it up,” or they’re accused of “playing the victim”. This leads to greater feelings of isolation. Sandra recognized that she was doing something similar with Abby. When Abby started to complain about her life, Sandra would try brushing her complaints off with an “Oh, it’s not that bad!” or she would try to change the subject. It felt too intense to stay with Abby and really listen to her.
The next time they got together at Starbucks to catch up, Abby again complained about feeling low energy and despair. This time Sandra looked her in the eye and said “Abby, this must be so difficult for you. I can really feel your struggle.” Abby’s eyes filled with tears as she said “Thank you for understanding. It means the world to me.”
It’s far more helpful to make eye contact and acknowledge how difficult it must be to feel the way your friend or loved one is feeling. Simply being seen and heard can make them feel less alone.
Keep Healthy Boundaries
Know your limits. Resist the impulse to “solve” the problem. It’s not your job to make someone feel better. Recognize there is nothing you need to do to “fix” the person. Take some breaths, calm and soothe yourself, and stay centered and grounded.
Sit with them in empathy and accurately reflect back what you hear them saying. In this way, you can create a safe environment for them to talk about their feelings. You can empower others by regarding them as having the ability to figure out what is depressing them.
As Sandra and Abby sat together over coffee, Sandra made sure to watch that she didn’t try to “fix” Abby or make her feel better. Rather, she focused on staying connected to her inner self while remaining present with Abby. She remembered her counselor’s words: “When you take responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of another person, you are undermining their capacity to take care of themselves. When you step into someone else’s boundary with the mindset that they’re broken, they read in your energy that they’re not capable of taking care of themselves.”
Encourage Them to Get Help
It’s important to remember that if your friend or loved one is exhibiting suicidal thoughts or tendencies you should take immediate action and contact a suicide prevention line in your area to find resources.
Near the end of their conversation at Starbucks, Sandra felt much more connected with Abby. She was able to tell Abby about the experience she was having with her therapist who practiced a body, mind, spirit therapy called Integrative Body Psychotherapy. Abby seemed interested and hopeful while hearing about the breath and boundary work Sandra was doing with her therapist. As they got up to leave, Sandra told Abby she would text her with her therapist’s contact information.
Depression is often a wake-up call to action. Most commonly, depression is the body’s wisdom taking charge and saying “Pay Attention.” If this is the case, there is a way out. Therapy with a focus on energetic breathwork, boundaries, and emotional themes and patterns can transform your feelings of depression and wake you up inside.
The Core Self Transformation is an introduction to the Integrative Body Psychotherapy approach. It incorporates a body-mind-spirit awareness while embracing a person’s whole life experience. This leads them on a journey toward greater authenticity, connection, presence, and fulfillment.