When you find out that someone close to you has depression or anxiety, or when you suspect that they might, it’s completely natural to feel worried and overwhelmed. Although we’ve all heard of these mental health conditions, many of us don’t know much about them until we’re confronted with them in our personal lives.
The first thing to do is to take a deep breath and accept that the person you love is hurting.
The worst thing you can do for someone with a mental illness is to make them feel judged, or put pressure on them to feel better. Make a commitment to be patient with them and listen as much as they want you to. And let them know that you’re here to help.
Right from the start, tell them that it doesn’t matter if they don’t know what to say, or if they don’t know what they need. Give them the space to be quiet if they don’t want to talk, and let them know that you’re ready to simply sit with them and acknowledge their experience.
For someone who feels isolated and judged because of a struggle that they can’t fully explain, validating their experience by simply saying “this must be really hard, and I don’t have any answers, but I am here for you,” can be incredibly powerful.
Remember that they might not feel able, at present, to express gratitude or even acknowledge your efforts to help. Sometimes, depression and anxiety cause people to lash out at those closest to them. If this happens, try to remain patient and understanding, and not take it personally. Don’t allow yourself to be hurt, and respect your own boundaries too; but reassure them that you will be there for them when they’re ready.
Here are some of the most important things to do when you’re trying to help someone with anxiety or depression.