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Author Topic: Helping a friend with depression
Hobbes
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I'm looking for some advice here. I've got a good friend here (as good as can be when it's realized I moved here about 5 months prior) who is clearly suffering from depression. He puts up a good front most of the time but he's confided in my and one or two others about his problems; this is isn't his first time struggling with it though he claims it's worse this time. I can tell that it's gotten worse than it was a few months ago at the very least. He hasn't gotten professional help in the past for various reasons the top of which is money. Luckily he's spoken to our Bishop here (he, like myself, is LDS) who has counseled him as best he could but recognized that he needs professional help. The Church is going to make sure he can go to a counselor and I know they're getting together some money to pay for prescriptions should it go that way. He just had his first session this week (I don't know yet how it went); I don't know anything about anything in this topic but to me it really seems like it is a chemical problem. In terms of effects on his life, he's done pretty well to limit damage. Getting and keeping a good job, he's also decided he wants a better/different eduction for which he's applied to school and will be attending come Fall. He has a decent social life (better than mine at least, which I'm not sure is that great a compliment). In other words his life isn't falling apart around him while he deals with this problem.

But it is a problem and one I'm not sure how best to help. I don't think I really did much to get it to happen but I did encourage the counselling which I'm thrilled he's going through with: hopefully healing can come through that. I don't know what to do from my part in the meantime though. I try to be a good listener when he wants to talk about things but I never have much to say so I think he always feels a little like I'm judging him or something. This is an area I just have no experience in. I've talked with plenty of people going through hard times in life before but I've never (knowingly) been really close friends with someone suffering through something that's clearly clinical depression and not merely hard life circumstances. I know a decent number of people here at Hatrack have gone through this: any advice?

Hobbes [Smile]

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Philosofickle
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My advice, coming from someone who was in counseling for quite a few years would be to let the counselor handle the talking through and diagnosing of problems. Just knowing that you have the unwavering support of someone is a huge relief to people.

One problem that I had when suffering from depression was that I lost focus on life and the beauty and meaning that was around me. You might be able to help by being his friend and also (forgive me for saying it) reminiscing about "the good old days." When I was depressed I couldn't separate the time that I'd been having problems with the times that I hadn't. So now when I get too dad, I think back on my mission, or on times when I really, REALLY knew that things were right, and that they were going to be okay. If he served a successful mission for the church just do what we Mormon boys do best, swap some stories.

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Kwea
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Just be there for him, and let him know you care/ In the sort term it may not help right away, but in the long term it can make all the difference.

Make sure you recommend him following though on seeing the councilor, as that is how he can get help managing his depression... with or without drug therapy.

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Phanto
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I'd try to become a gym buddy with him. Exercise is an amazing help with all sorts of problems.
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Christine
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Echo echo echo....

Yeah, you've got the advice you need. I'm currently in therapy for depression myself and I can tell you honestly that as far as talking through root causes of my feelings and learning coping mechanisms and all that funs stuff, that's what the professional is there for.

My friends and family are there to do what friends and family do. Be present. Fill their roles. In particular, I don't discuss this openly with my friends and none of them know I'm in therapy. I don't want them to because I don't want it to be this thing. What I need from them is to laugh at things one laughs at and cry at things one cries at. I need them to hang out with me on the last Saturday of the month for our book club meeting or go to a movie with me or...etc.

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Tatiana
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One thing is that depressed people go through friends rather quickly. Most people, honestly, don't want to hear about it for long when someone is feeling down. They'd rather talk to someone more upbeat. Or maybe they just feel helpless to help so they stay away. I'm not sure why exactly, and I'm not blaming them at all. It's just how it is.

So if you can be patient with him and let him be ... well... depressing ... for a while, without letting it damage your friendship in any way, then I think that's the very best thing you can do for him. Accept that he's not well, and appreciate his company anyway. Continue to be his friend, and be willing to listen, even if all you can say is "wow, that sucks!"

A lot of times people don't want you to try to fix their problem, because the truth is that they have a lot more experience and understanding of it than you do. I mean they might appreciate the sentiment but the things you actually suggest might not be helpful for them or they may have already tried that or they may be doing it already. Encouragement, though, is always a good thing.

I agree with Phanto that asking him to come to the gym with you or to go for a run with you or any other positive healthy thing is a great idea. Running outside for 1 hour a day during daylight hours is a great treatment for depression, when it's possible. Of course he might feel too bad to do anything at all, so don't be disappointed or, worse, impatient with him if he says no to everything you ask him to do.

People who don't have depression often think that people who do have depression are doing it to themselves, they're deliberately sabotaging themselves and making themselves worse, or whatever. It does seem like that sometimes. But in truth they simply might not be able to do better. It's very hard to describe if you haven't felt it but sometimes walking to the bathroom when you need to seems an insurmountable difficulty. One time a dear friend of mine told me he got so depressed he had to crawl to the bathroom. Others get so depressed they just soil themselves where they're sitting.

So do your best not to be judgmental in any way, and realize that it's not as easy as it may seem. And most of all, if you get tired, bored, annoyed, or impatient, take a break. Don't snap at him or say "Why don't you just ... " or whatever. Realize that these are signs that YOU are losing the energy to deal with his disease, and need to replenish yourself accordingly through prayer or communion with the spirit.

You can be the means by which Heavenly Father pours out great blessings upon your friend. That's an awesome thing to experience, as I'm sure you know. But it requires you to keep your Christlike love for your friend in effect and not to let impatience, annoyance, fatigue, etc. gain a foothold. Because your friend will already be feeling worthless and like he's wasting everyone's time and not worth the effort. So you may need divine assistance never to give him any extra reason to feel that way.

Luckily, because of the blessings of the Holy Spirit and the restored gospel that you have been given, not to mention the Priesthood, you will have divine assistance aplenty to call upon. I feel sure your friend could have no-one better to look after him than you.

[ June 28, 2009, 06:47 PM: Message edited by: Tatiana ]

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DaisyMae
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I agree with the advice already given.

I've been officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder for about six years, but had resisted seeking professional help for many years prior to that.

My husband is extremely understanding and has learned the best ways to help me when I'm going through difficult times. At first he really didn't get it and it was frustrating to him and then he really wanted to fix whatever little things I'd be complaining about.

But it wasn't the things. It was me. And he couldn't fix me.

Now he knows that the most valuable thing he can do for me is listen when I feel like venting and express his love and acceptance of me when I feel so guilty about being so out of it that I feel like a bad mom and a bad wife and a bad person all around. I TOTALLY second what Tatiana said about sometimes just getting up and walking into another room seems too hard. I remember once willing myself into the kitchen to do the dishes and then falling into a heap on the floor. The task seemed utterly overwhelming.

Just having someone tell you that they love you just the way you are now and that it's okay to be going through what you are going through, that it's okay to deal with it the way you are dealing with it and to be hopeful for you when you can't be. Those things will be the most valuable, IMO. Depression is like a vacuum for hope. Just sticking around will mean more than you realize.

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katharina
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I think being his friend and being patient without counting the cost is the best thing you can do. That's FANTASTIC that he's getting help and that church is taking care of him. Having been in the position of going to counseling at the recommendation of the bishop, I can say that it helped tremendously. The counselor will help him sort things out, so you don't have to worry about that.

Just being his friend is the best that you can do. I lost more than a couple friends when I was depressed because I was not fun to be around. I got better, but I was so disappointed with those friends that even when they wanted to be friends again, I wasn't inclined. My best friend, on the other hand, was very, very patient. She still got fed up a couple of times and once wrote me a very hurtful email explaining all the stuff I was doing that was bugging her, but I didn't give up on her and she didn't give up on me, so when I got better, we were still friends.

He is lucky to have you as a friend. You can't fix his problems, so you are relieved of the burden of having to try. Just be yourself, and be understanding when he is having a hard time. [Smile]

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Fyfe
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I'm glad he's getting help, and that you're there for him. I'm sure this is alarmist, but just wanted to mention: If he ever hints that he's thinking of suicide, don't leave it alone. Ask if he's thinking about it, ask if he's thought about how he would do it, and if so, ask whether he's done anything to prepare for it. There is probably a suicide hotline in your area, if y'all have this talk outside of his counselor's office hours.

A lot of people are squeamish about discussing suicide, but it really is important not to let those "dying clues" lie.

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just_me
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I'm going to give you my advice, and then go back and read the rest of the posts. This means that I may just be echoing someone else, but it also means you're getting my "pure" advice unaffected by anything else I read.

I am not a mental health professional. I've never taken any psych classes. This is just my personal experience and my personal opinion.

I have a lot of people in my life who are depressed - three of them being my wife, sister in law and mother in law. At one point my SIL lived with us for a year, so I've experiences her brand of depression from "ground zero" as well as my wife's (which is a different "flavor"). I've known a few people who had untreated depression and ended their lives because of it.

So in my opinion/experience:
1) The #1 best thing you can do for a friend or loved one who's depressed is to make sure they know you will stay their friend/loved one no matter what. People who are depressed can sometimes be downright difficult/painful to be around, but you need to remind yourself that it's their illness, and not their own choice, that is making them be that way.

2) When people are depressed they forget there was ever any other way of being. Medication and/or therapy might help them be happy for weeks, and then will get depressed again and will not remember being happy... they will say they were just pretending and that they've never been happy. In some cases it may be true that they were pretending, but I think it's usually the disease affecting them and them being unable to remember being happy.

3) A few thoughts on medication and therapy:
a) Medication helps, as does therapy
b) Therapy is sometimes enough
c) Medication can help some without therapy but generally if one needs medication one should also be getting therapy. The medication is just to "take the edge off" enough so that the therapy works.
d) It takes time to form a relationship with a therapist, but if someone isn't comfortable with their therapist they should get a new one.
e) In my opinion religious counseling is great, but not the same as "professional help"... I've seen "religious counseling" go very badly and seemingly make things worse instead of better. I'm very glad to see that your bishop recognized this and is trying to help your friend get therapy.

4) If your friend ever hints about, jokes about, or mentioned suicide take it seriously. Considering my first point above, I've made it clear to my wife that I can forgive her anything, and I understand that we are fighting her illness together BUT I've also made it clear that if she ever hurts herself or decides to deprive our children of her mother that I will not forgive her. This is a war we can only win if we both keep fighting and I will not give up and I expect the same from her.

5) Accept that you can't fix things... you can just help your friend fix them.

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Tatiana
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Yes, it's true about suicide. Take it very seriously. The number one predictor for a successful suicide is a prior attempt. The number two predictor is a stated intention to commit suicide. Some people will say that anyone who makes an unsuccessful attempt wasn't serious and was just trying for attention. This is a deadly mistake to make. Never brush off talk of suicide or suicidal actions.

Instead, do reach out to the person and ask them if they feel that way. Ask if they want to talk about it. Assure them that they matter, that they're needed and they make a real difference. Assure them that they're worthy and that their friends and family would be devastated to lose them. Don't hesitate to call 911 in life threatening situations. That's what 911 is for.

Sometimes it's helpful to ask a suicidal friend to promise not to harm themselves without talking to you about it first, and giving you a chance to get help for them. It's a very difficult position to be in, but if you are the closest person to someone who is suicidal, you may become literally their lifeline.

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Paul Goldner
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1) Be his friend. Don't waver, or disappear on him.
2) Don't try to talk to him about what is going on unless he brings it up. Don't give advice unless he asks for it.


3) Do fun things with him. What depressed people don't have is fun. Does he love mini golf? Do mini golf with him. Does he love cooking? Ask him if you can come over for dinner. A lot of times, depressed people feel like they are missing important components of their lives, and giving him the opportunity to have those important components is all you can really do.

4) Don't put pressure on him. He's got enough already. Let him do things in his own time.

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Christine
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I want to make one more point, that has been overlooked:

Depression does not define the whole of a person's being. Every person with depression is an individual, with their own likes, dislikes, and needs.

For example, one thing that I personally need from friends is to let me be a friend as well. It comes down to a lot of the baggage that weighs me down and is at the root of my depression, but basically I don't want to be the person who always takes and never gives back. For some reason, this has been a particularly difficult thing for me to do, partly because I don't always acknowledge my own contributions but partly because people don't ask me for help either because they think I can't or that it would put too big a burden on me. I don't know how to get through to people -- PLEASE ask me for help. Get the focus off of me and make me feel like I'm useful.

I won't pretend that this is some underlying aspect of depression that holds true for everyone, but it is part of my own individual struggles and I am using it to highlight one possibility. I would even believe that it is somewhat common. After all, most of us understand that friendship is a two way street and to truly show someone you are a friend, the road needs to go both ways.

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Dr Strangelove
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Amen Christine. I've struggled with depression for a while now, and recently had a chance to talk with someone I care deeply about who is struggling with it. She, like me, is known to her friends and family as the strong, steady mature one. One of the main thing I tried to communicate to her was to not let her identity be lost to depression. Just because you suffer from depression does not mean you are not the same person. Contrary to popular belief, you can be a strong, steady, mature, depressed person. Don't deny that you have a problem and let it eat and eat and eat at you, but don't let it swallow you whole either. That is so critical.
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