This post is intended to be a GUIDE ONLY, if you are worried about anyone & can’t get through to them, please call 000 or
Lifeline 13 11 14. I am not even going to pretend that I have all the answers, this is how I go about it.
Most of us have been there. A friend/partner/family member comes to you and says “I am really depressed, I have thought about hurting myself” You freeze for a moment too long as your loved one crumbles before you. Polarised by your own emotions (often the overwhelming desire to “fix it”) of feeling useless, powerless and afraid.
The aim of this post is to give you guidance on some ways to support your loved one. These are not hard and fast rules. You know your loved one and their personality, use this as a guide. No person experiences mental illness the same and that is an important point to keep at the front of your mind. Further, I know my wording is very “clinical” but this is how I think, as this is how I have been trained to think. You need to use your own language and style…I hope this helps…
1. Active listening
This is your prime role. Listening. Sounds simple I know, but a lot people don’t know how to ‘actively listen’.
Firstly, you need to take some deep breaths and find a safe place for you to speak. I usually offer to “go have coffee” or visit (if told over the phone and the person is in the same state). I do not advise going for a drink (alcohol), as this is not the time to muddy the waters.
Once settled ask “Can you tell me from the beginning, what’s going on?”
Allow the person to speak. This could take time. It may be the first time they have ever asked for help, so remember that they are scared and feeling vulnerable and exposed. If they can’t find a starting point, ask more direct questions such as “How long have you been feeling this way?”
When the conversation begins you, make eye contact, sit forward and listen. When the conversation has a pause or you don’t understand, tell your loved one what you heard them saying and ask them to either confirm or expand.
Validate your loved ones experience, but try to avoid patronising them. Statements like “Everyone feels that way from time to time” are useless and tend to make people feel like they are being a whinger or pathetic. Statements like “That must have been horrible” or “Tell me more about how you felt at the time?” are helpful and validating.
We’ve all said the wrong thing at the wrong time…Or maybe that’s just me? *laughs to self*. So what’s the best response? Honesty. If you honestly don’t know what to say, say it. “I don’t know what to say” is a genuine response. I have said it many times and I have training! Another response can be “What can I do to help?” or “Is there something more I can do?” or “I feel useless, what can I do to help you”.
If your loved one replies with “There’s nothing anyone can do…” offer to go to the GP or sit with them while they call lifeline or whatever it is they need and if they refuse this offer, say “If/when you change your mind, I’ll be here”. Your aim now is to check up on them. Text, call, visit. Remind them that you are there if they want to seek help.
The help-seeking is one of the biggest hurdles and can take months, sometimes years to happen. I have one client where it took 2 and 1/2 years to get her daughter to the GP about her chronic depression but like anything that puts you in a vulnerable position, it has to come from the you or else it is pretty much doomed for failure. Keeping a close eye on your loved one is key. Text, calls, emails, FB messages, twitter, or visiting to remind them of your offer of help and to encourage them to go to their doctor.
3. Looking after you!
I’ve seen it more times that I care to remember, when the carer reaches their emotional and physical limits. For some just hearing that their loved one is depressed is incredibly confronting and overwhelming and that’s okay. How you feel, is how you feel and it’s important to acknowledge that. If you have these very natural emotional reaction, talk to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on for your loved one. It doesn’t mean you are depressed too, it means you are having an emotional reaction to a serious situation. The sooner you acknowledge it, the sooner it will pass and you will be able to see the wonderful thing you have done for your loved one and continue to be an active support. It’s the reason why hospitals have debriefing and handover between shifts. Even doctor’s do it. *wink*. How you chose to debrief is really up to you. I find journalling incredibly helpful (when there’s no one to debrief too) but I usually talk to Mr P (my incredibly delicious partner) or another friend.
If you feel that you have not responded they way you “should” have, then reflect on it and think of CONSTRUCTIVE ways to do “better” when you speak to your loved one next (see links below). In the past, I have told my loved one that I didn’t feel I handled it very well (this happens a lot with my mum, who has chronic OCD/PTSD) and I apologise. This often opens up an opportunity to revisit the discussion and it often bonds you to your loved one further as sometimes showing your own vulnerability can be the best support (see modelling theory).
To finish up, I’d like to quote the lovely people at ReachOut.com:
“It’s also important to remember that even though you can offer support, you are not responsible for the actions or behaviour of your friend. If they are not willing to help themselves it is not your fault. Wanting to help your friend is understandable and really kind, but their actions are their own and you can’t control what they decide to do”
We can’t save everyone, we can try, the sad fact is, sometimes we fail. If you or anyone you know need support or advice, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. I hope this post helps, if you’d like any further information, don’t hesitate to comment, or for more private situations please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I may not have the answers, but I know how to find out.
Lots of Love
Support Services (Sorry Au only at this stage, if international readers would like to post numbers etc in the comments section I will add them to the post.)
Help Lines & web links:
Suicide Call Back Service:
1300 65 94 67
13 11 14
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800