The plan was for this final post on mental health to be posted at the end of January but for a variety of reasons, I’m just now finishing it. Obviously, we’re 2 months past January and our world looks vastly different than it did a mere 60 days ago.
I can’t help but wonder if this long overdue post might be a better-timed read for March than it ever would have been in January. I know that in my own life, dealing with depression in the midst of the Coronavirus and self-quarantining is a new battle right now. My screen time has gone up significantly which as many of us know, can also lead to increase in depression and loneliness. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. So as we work together to figure out this new temporary normal, let’s remember the people in our lives who might be struggling a little bit extra. Let’s still be known for our love during the heaviness of this season..
I love someone who has anxiety and/or depression. How do I love them well?
Be proactive in presence
Don’t wait for your depressed friend to ask for you to show up.
Your friend probably isn’t in her best state of mind to be able to be vulnerable and risk being rejected or feel like she’s an inconvenience. During social distancing, be present via texts, Facetime, or phone calls. Instead of waiting for them to text you, be the relationship leader. Text them with a time to facetime later. Be the one to make the phone call to check-in. Post-social distancing 2020, text your friends and ask if you can drop by and sit with them for a while.
However, just as important as it is to reach out, it’s equally important to be understanding if they aren’t up for it. Be patient and give lots of grace. Recognize that just because you think they need to get out of their house or have a long Facetime call, doesn’t mean they want to hang-out.
I know this seems like a slightly contradictory point- ‘be present but don’t force them to be present!’ and to be honest, it is. It’s a double standard benefitting the one struggling. However, if you really want to know how to help, you must understand that being overwhelmed, fearful, worried, or exhausted are valid emotions and ones that need to be respected. (*Please note- if you are family, there are times you might need a more direct approach. Feel free to email me if you would like more info.)
Be intentional with choices.
If someone tells me “let me know if you need anything,” 95% of the time, I will never reach out- even if it’s someone in my family. However, if a friend is intentional with offering me choices, I will respond. So, instead of saying, “let me know if you need anything,” try one of these:
“What night can I leave dinner on your porch?”
“What night is good for you to facetime?”
“When I can come over and clean your kitchen? (post social-distancing era)”
As the friend, take the lead and start planning the specifics. That makes it much easier for those of us in the struggle.
Don’t insist on being loosely relatable.
Understand that being sad is not the same as being depressed. That being anxious for something that most would deem concerning is not the same as struggling with anxiety. Your experiences are equally valid and important but they are not the same so don’t stretch them to be. This doesn’t mean you can’t relate to anything they are saying, but instead, be aware of the differences and acknowledge them. Often, this will help your friend feel more comfortable and will allow them the space to continue to share because they see that you are trying to understand their unique feelings and struggles.
Be minimal with your suggestions
Suggestions typically are said with the absolute best of intentions, but many times, they are received as judgmental. For example:
Have you considered eating a tuna only diet? They say you get used to tuna for three meals a day and it does wonders for the depressed thoughts.
I hear: If I don’t eat tuna, it’s my fault that I still have depression.
Have you considered selling your house and moving to a rural setting? Getting away from all the noise will do wonders for the mental health.
I hear: Moving is a better solution for dealing with depression than my antidepressant. My antidepressant must not be doing a good enough job, fast enough.
Obviously those suggestions are outlandish, and I’ve never been advised to try either of them. However, I have been urged to try different things. On my “good days,” I recognize it as a kind suggestion to help, but on my “bad days” it’s easy to take as “it’s my fault for not doing ______.” We need to be extremely cautious of how and when we advise those struggling with mental health to add another “solution” to the mix. The safest practice is to wait to offer a suggestion until your friend asks for them or starts a conversation about additional ways they might try to battle their depression or anxiety.
If I come down with pneumonia, I will go to the doctor and follow the doctor’s orders for my recovery. There are certainly “additional” things I can do to help my recovery process; however, friends, family and acquaintances will understand if I choose to solely follow my doctor’s orders and not attempt any other options to a faster recovery. The people in my life trust the doctor and my own perspective to follow-through with finding the best recovery option available for me.
Yet, in my experience, we are less likely to trust the doctor and the person’s perspective on their best recovery process when we are discussing mental health. I remember one day telling Aaron, “I’m truly ok with taking medicine. I’m not trying to find another alternative. The antidepressant works for me.
I think the Christian community has accepted that Christians suffer with depression and anxiety, but I’m not sure that we’ve fully accepted antidepressants as an answer.”
Be thoughtful and considerate in how you choose to share suggestions. Sometimes silence and support is the best “additional” suggestion you can give.
At the end of the day, being a friend to someone struggling with mental health is simple.
Show that you think about them.
Respect where they are at.
It really is as simple as a kind thought, word, or action that makes all the difference.
One day, I received a large envelope in the mail from a friend who I don’t talk to that much. Inside was this beautiful hand-drawn sign and a short note. She had read my post about anxiety and had made me a sign that helps to remind me of the truth of God and His presence. I teared up as I read all the attributes of God she had chosen to list for me. When I brought the sign into our living room, I gasped and took it over to our accent wall. When we moved in last summer, we decided to paint our main living room wall a striking but very unique shade of blue. My friend had chosen to use different shades of blue in her sign. The attributes of God were written in the exact shade of blue that is on our wall. The wall that my friend has never seen.
God gave me a double encouragement through her that day. Not only the words on the sign she had drawn, but also the reminder that God is with me through all of this and provides the perfect encouragement I need. Even down to the right shade of blue.
Your encouragement to a struggling friend can be their biggest blessing that week. God can even turn it into a double blessing. Just be obedient. Love them well.
About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!