Sunday, 12 July 2015

Bite-Sized Advice for Friends of the Depressed

If someone was to ask for some non-revolutionary, amateur advice on how to be a friend to a depressed person, this is what I would say.  Although to be honest, none of these ideas are really mine; they are just a record of some of what my family and friends did for me during some of my more wintery seasons. They embodied this amazing verse from 1 Samuel 23:16: "Jonathan went to David at Horesh, and helped him find strength in the Lord."

I am so thankful for their friendship; their love, self-sacrifice and forgiveness has been a reminder of God's kindness. Sometimes I saw it on the darkest of days, sometimes only when the sun came out.

I found these things helpful; I hope this advice might bless others too.

1) Speak...
Say words to your depressed friend. If you don't say it, they will be assuming things, without even realising assumptions are being made. Generally speaking, these assumptions will not be good. Tell them the truth: if they are being a pain- you can say that. But if they're not- reassure them: you are loved, you are valued, you are fun! Or how you are being now is not the quintessential you! Better still: write it down. Give them tangible words they can hold on to and read and re-read when condemnation is whirring through their heads.

2) Invite and insist!
 If you invite your friend to do something, and they say no, ask again. Or at least, tell them they will be missed- that it won't be the same without them. Encourage them to make a mind decision rather than a feelings decision. Do what you can to make it easier for them: "let's meet and go together"; "let's get ready together"; get to the venue first; tell them who else is expected so that they can prepare. This  insistence on their presence is not to torture them, but to encourage them to stimulate their minds with something other than... their minds. Although it doesn't always feel like it- real world data can be a friend to the depressed mind.

3) Recognise the small steps
 Be aware that being out is difficult: let them know you know that. They might need to go home. Congratulate them on making it out!

4) Feed them well.
Most depressed people have a complex relationship with food. But if you can share meat and two veg with them from time to time, they will be comforted by health and normality.

5) Be there.
You probably can't offer solutions. Either the cause of depression is impossible to access- or it feels like the last ten, fifteen years have all led to this valley. There's a whole lifetime of narrative that is making this moment unbearable- and you probably won't be able to unpick it or solve it. But you can make the most present moment better.

6) Admit the complexity.
You will desperately, desperately want to take the pain away. You will at times want to shake your friend, slap your friend, shout your friend out of their way of seeing things. Avoid doing these things; be kind and be there. Tell them how frustrated you are and how you wish the darkness could be swallowed up now. Let your anger fuel your prayer. Don't be afraid to admit the depths of the darkness: the problem does not have to be denied or simplified or untangled for Jesus to be able to redeem it. Gloriously, he can plumb the bitter depths, and work there- in the valley of shadows- for good.

7) Call out the sickness!
Of course there will be sin in your friend, as there is in us all. But it will help if you know and talk distinctly about the symptoms of depression. Your friend will want to put all the blame on themselves but they will need you to identify the symptoms at work. Be informed about the sickness, and the symptoms, and avoid citing your AS in Psychology as your authority on these matters.

8) Share!
Your depressed friend is still your friend: let them know what you need prayer for, where your difficulties are. This is a gentle reminder that there is life outside the depressed mind- and that gasps of freedom can come in loving others. It also reassures them that your relationship is a friendship, rather than you being a person and their being a sack of (very heavy, very sad) stones.

9) Be their perspective:
Let them ask you: "this is how I see it- is this right?" Some times they will take what you say on board. Some things will be impossible for them to compute. But later- they will remember what you've said.

10) Forgive them.
They will let you down. They will be afraid. They will doubt your friendship. They will not find things fun that they should find fun. They will be defensive- and offensive. The kindest thing you can do for them is forgive them.  If they hurt you- tell them, explain why you are hurt. They may apologise, or they may be blind. Try to forgive them anyway.

11) Tell them you are sad they are sad. This will make an enormous difference.

12) Pray for them.
Do this if you do nothing else. Depression is painful. And lonely. And destructive. It is, put simply, your mind telling you things that aren't true. Pray that the truth gets through. Pray for flashes of hope, waves of hope, torrents of hope. Remind your friend that their darkness is temporary- even if it lasts a lifetime. Pray that the darkness lifts soon. Depression is one of those things that makes you face up to the fact that there are some problems you can't fix. Let that drive you to the One who can make a difference.


  1. I love your blog. It speaks to my very soul. I thank God for you and thank God for Jesus. Love and prayers xx

  2. Thank you so much for commenting: it's such an encouragement! Big love in Him x

  3. Reading this again...soo good. Thank you again, Philippa.

  4. Such helpful advice, Philippa. It's worth saying also that many of the greatest creative minds have suffered from depression. Richard


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