Real Ways To Help When Your Loved One Has Depression Or Anxiety – 46 People Weigh In

 

When I’m in the midst of a deep depression, or grappling with a bout of anxiety – both of which often come together – very few external things help me.  I never want someone to try to help me fix it (I have a therapist for that), and it’s extremely rare that I want to talk about it, if I even can talk about it (I have a therapist for that, too). More often than not, even the best of intentions and attempts to make me feel better only serve to make me feel worse.  I feel like it’s important to clarify that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and I don’t mean to lay blame.  I blame nothing other than ignorance, inexperience, and a stigma surrounding mental health that means it’s not talked about nearly as often, or as openly, as it should be.   How could anyone possibly know what to do – and what not to do – if no one’s ever told them?  The irony of course is that the times I need support the most are the times when I’m least able to articulate, or even identify for myself, what may or may not be helpful.  When I’m depressed, I’m not rational.  I’m never “with it.”  I’m not always nice.

Still, there *are* a few things that help, none more than simply being there.  Not trying to fix, not judging.  Just seeing me, and loving me, right where I’m at.  When I asked my readers to share their own experience on my Facebook page, the response was overwhelming in its solidarity.  People with depression and anxiety just want to know they are loved.  While that might look slightly different for everyone, the sentiment remains the same.  Far and away the most common response was some version of, “Just be there.  Just love me.”

A selection of those responses, plus several others, are what follow.  A few times the responses directly contradicted one another, which I loved (we’re humans, not robots).  I tried to group those together.    I added a bit of commentary a couple of times, but mostly let them stand on their own.

Listen – and really hear – what helps these brave individuals when they are struggling:

“Just listening and not trying to fix things.  I usually just need a sounding board, not answers.” ~ Kelsey S

Validation helps, not necessarily trying to find you a solution.” ~ Ladasha M

“When they reach out and just offer support or when they let me just “be” until I’m ready to talk.  It’s super helpful when they don’t try to “fix” things.  I think that helps me more than anything.  Just to know that they are there for me and don’t see me as broken and unuseful.”  ~ Laura L

“Letting me talk about it without offering an “answer.”” ~ Valerie S

“The most helpful thing is when a friend/loved one just sits next to me (literally or metaphorically) and says “I’m here”. No false promises that things will get better soon, no attempts to cheer me up, just sitting with me and letting me feel what I need to feel” ~ Chelsea S

“The most helpful for me is for my friends/family to just be there.” ~ Katie C

“”I’m here if you need me”. You have to truly mean it, because you might get a call in the middle of the night.”  ~ Alisha T

“Nothing they really say helps because when I am in deep, I can turn anything into a negative.  Just being there, never giving up on me, and loving me helps.” ~ Ashley A

“Just being listened to.  Having someone just witness my experience.  Believing my experience is real and not just “in my head.”  ~ Patty M

“”I’m here if you need to talk.”” ~ Jay T

“Giving me some space to just be with how I’m feeling, and letting me know they’re there when I’m ready to talk.”  ~ Jessica M

“Just simply saying they are here for me but also reminding me that I’m strong and brave.” ~ Kellie M

“Empathy:  ‘That sounds really hard.  Do you want to talk about it?'” ~  Catherine D

“It’s not anything said; it’s simply being near me. Even if the company is silent, having somebody sit with me and be willing to listen, watch a movie, or just exist for a moment makes me feel supported, more supported than any words.” ~ Reggie R

“I have anxiety and panic attacks so it’s very helpful if my family can remind me when I have a panic attack that I’m okay and that I only have to get through the next few minutes.  Asking why or what I’m upset about or trying to “fix” it does not help.  Also, being understanding when I need to leave the room to have a few minutes to breathe and let the anxiety wash over me.” ~ Ursula D

“Mostly just NOT saying, “What’s wrong?”  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong, and there usually isn’t.  Expecting me to be able to give some reason makes me feel guilty, like I have no business feeling awful when everything is going well in my life.” ~ Elizabeth S

“Being a compassionate, non-judgemental ear helps me a lot.  Being able to talk it out or cry it out works for me.”  ~ Michelle J

“Believing me.  No second guessing, no hedging.”  ~ Julia J

“The best thing ever was when I was having a bad day and I felt like I was causing so many problems for my husband. I was crying and promising him I would try harder to change. It was such a relief when he told me that I didn’t need to change, that I was fine just the way I was, and we just needed to find ways to cope. I had never felt so accepted and loved and it helped give me a solid base from which to blossom.” ~ Alicia R

A lot of people pointed to physical affection, along with physical presence:

“For me what is most helpful is when a friend is there for me letting me know they are there to listen.  When they make time to just come over and be present.  When they try to get me out of the house and out of my own head.  Another big one for me is a hug.  Hugs really help me.”  ~ Tamarah C

“Holding me tightly until the storm passes- that feeling of someone seeing you at your ugliest and not running away, not trying to make it better either.” ~ Crystal M

“It’s not so much what my loved ones say, it’s what they do (and don’t do). My partner gives me massages. He does my head, neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Tension melts away. My family all knows the special treats I like, so they’ll bring me truffles or a bottle of sparkling cider or spicy hot V8 or chile rellenos from my favorite restaurant. Then they leave me alone. They don’t try to talk to me unless it’s essential. They know I’ll eventually be okay, and time alone to sleep or read or snuggle my cats helps immensely.” ~ Jenny R

“”Are you having a hard day?  Do you need a hug?””  ~ Naomi R

“Hugs. And not all hugs are created equal.   Also, encouraging me to take a break, because I get stuck in the “I need to finish this,” mindset and have trouble seeing the solution.”  ~ Rob T

“It depends on how close I am to the person.  With my house humans, I definitely like hugs, back rubs, and someone just sitting quietly with me.  Hugs from acquaintances… nope.  A sincere compliment from anyone goes a long way, though.”  ~ Joan C

For some of us, tangible, practical help with the necessities of life goes a long way:

“Cleaning or cooking. Taking over administrative household things would be a tremendous help.” ~ Renee M

“When someone notices I’m down or very anxious and instead of asking me what’s wrong they simply do something kind.  Another question to ask instead of “what’s wrong” is “What can I do for you?” Or “What do you need right now?”  I don’t really get asked these but wish I do more often as they are the most helpful words at the time.” ~ Rebecca B

“Taking something off my plate or doing something kind for me helps a lot.” ~ V Sue H

“What can I do to help out?  What can I take off your plate for you?  What would make you feel better that I could do for you.  Feeling overburdened (by my own rules and expectations, mostly) was a huge part of my depression and anxiety.” ~ Sue S

“When they ask me what they can do to help.  That’s the best help.  Instead of assuming what I need, it’s nice for them to ask.” ~ Stephanie J

“Dear Lord, not the open ended, “How can I help?”  That question is so overwhelming to me when I’m depressed.  “Can I do X for you?” is much more helpful.  Trust me, if an alternative is better, I’ll let you know.”  Mariellen M.  I could really relate to this, and it took me a long time to realize it.  I’d often just wonder what the heck is wrong with me.  (That’s something I wonder a lot, especially when I’m depressed.)  Here I have this well-meaning, loving friend who wants to help me, and the offer only makes me more frustrated.  It’s not because I don’t appreciate it, and it’s (usually) not that I don’t want help.  It’s that I DON’T KNOW what kind of help I need.  The question feels overwhelming and impossible to answer.  A specific offer would be much easier to respond to.  I still might decline it!, but it’s far more likely to help.

“I would say whatever they think would help me out, just do it.  When I’m overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, someone asking me a question is incredibly stressful.  But if they just go ahead and hug me, call me, clean something, etc, it’s definitely appreciated.” ~ Issa W

“Can I bring you a cup of soup or a Coke?  Or can I watch the kids for you for an hour or two?  Just these simple things remind me that I can get through the darkness and I am not alone.” ~ Jennifer E

“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me?”  It just helps to fill the empty hours more pleasantly.”  ~ Margaret B

“Basically treat me like I have stomach flu!  I’m sick at the moment, let me act like it, and treat me like it.  Tuck me in and bring me tea.  The show of understanding and love will give me the strength to rise up.” ~ Seana R

“Not trying to whisk me away to my bedroom for alone time, and then taking over all the household things with the family. That would be helpful. I like knowing I can be present and included even if I am depressed. I don’t need to be quarantined.”  ~ Shelly C

And sometimes, what we need is a little bit of gentle pressure from the right person:

“Want to take a walk?  No?  I’d like to take you for a walk.  I know it helps.”  ~ Heather Y

“”Have you taken a shower today?  Text me after you get out of the shower.”” ~ Roya D.  Self care, even something as seemingly simple as a shower, can be incredibly hard when you’re depressed.  Gentle encouragement from a trusted friend can go a long way.

“Make me food.  Offer to get me out of the house.  Gently ask if I’ve showered/eaten something/taken my medication/stepped outside.” ~ Idzie D

“My husband helps me by giving me alone time or encouraging me to go to yoga.  I often give up yoga when I’m overwhelmed, and it’s one of the things that helps me the most.  He also gently helps me get to bed, as sleep always helps.  He just kind of takes over and says, “Why don’t you get in bed and I”ll put the kids to bed.”  No judgement.” ~ Audrey B

One of the biggest reasons that I continue to write about this is that it has helped me SO MUCH to hear from others who get it.  Commiseration from someone who’s been there is a powerful thing, and I’m not alone in that belief:

“When I went through a four-year struggle with depression and anxiety, what helped me the most was 1) knowing other people had been there.  I loved it when people were willing to share their experiences. 2) Learning to seize the day.  That is, I had to learn to live life to the fullest.  I had to learn to do things I enjoy.” ~ Kandy C

“Personally, hearing someone say, “I’ve struggled with that too” has helped me the most. That hardly EVER comes from my spouse or family.  It has to come from someone outside my current situation like a close friend.”  ~ Mandi P

Depression is an incredibly isolating illness.  It’s about us, and no one else, so it’s important not to take it personally.  Here are just a couple of examples:

“Not take it personally and keep getting angry because I won’t say what exactly is wrong.  Most of the time I don’t even know what’s wrong, but everyone is so quick to think I’m upset with them” ~ Kelly J

“Don’t take it personally when I cancel plans to go out at the last minute”. ~ Jenica M

One of the things that helped me a lot when I first started talking about this was simple honesty.

“”I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.”” ~ Jessika B

And finally, when all else fails, there is this:

“Saying that no matter what, you love me.” ~ Rebecca R

46 different people in different places, with different struggles, and different stories.  But one common plea that unites us all:

Just be there.

Hear us.

See us.

Love us.

xo

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1 Comment

Filed under anxiety, depression, mental health, Uncategorized

One Response to Real Ways To Help When Your Loved One Has Depression Or Anxiety – 46 People Weigh In

  1. I’m so, so glad you took the time to gather all this and put it together. This is exactly what I have always wished I had when I’m feeling really down and can’t express myself, and now I know where to send people to see what it is that I just can’t say at the time!

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