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five ways to help a friend with depression

by mia timpano

Chums! You don’t have to be a therapist to help out a friend stuck in the doldrums. (With that said, therapy is good, and in case anyone you know would benefit, here's some info on getting up to ten free sessions of expert help). Below are five ways to help a friend with depression, written by one person who’s spent entire days lying catatonic on the floor.

how to help a friend with depression inside
snap by Candice Carlin 

LET THEM KNOW YOU GIVE A SHIT Why are people so weird about letting someone know that they’re loved? It shouldn’t take a bottle of tequila, a slab of beer and a trail of puked-up kebab meat to tell someone that you give a shit about whether they live or die. One day my neighbour, a bad-arse Iranian scientist called John, found out I had a cold, so he bought me a shitload of mandarins (he also knew I was rather destitute at the time). I hugged him and was touched, despite profoundly hating mandarins. John was not aware that I also suffered from clinical depression*, but with that bag of mandarins, he let me know that he cared that I was still alive in my grief-hole apartment.

WATCH SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ABOUT DEATH Movies are dangerous for depressed people. I generally can’t watch films that include self-destructive characters or actors that have killed themselves. In rather delightful contrast, however, a comedy can be better medicine than a fistful of Zoloft!

DON’T TALK ABOUT DEPRESSION ALL THE TIME Seriously. I am more than an illness. I actually do like talking about other shit. Sometimes it’s fine, but frankly when it becomes an ever-recurring topic, the depressed individual may begin to think that you are defining them by their illness. I’m fairly certain that no one on Earth enjoys being defined by their illness**, any more than they enjoy being defined by their tapeworm or third nipple.

IF THEY WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, LISTEN If having depression has taught me anything, it’s that people don’t listen enough. I remember in the early years, when I would spend entire days just lying catatonic on the floor, one girlfriend actually said, “You know what your problem is? You need a boyfriend.” She had found me alone and crying in a petrol station. She never even asked what my problem was.

BE THERE Turn up. Hang out. Watch TV. Drink a beer. Swap dirty stories. Give them a hug. Then do it all over again next week! Yes, it’s really that simple! Two things should dawn on them: a) that you like them and would genuinely prefer that they didn’t kill themselves (yes, we really need to be reminded sometimes); and b) that hanging out and drinking beer is basically the meaning of life. Depressed people don’t always know why they’re depressed. If they’re anything like me, it’s probably some existential shit that requires thousands of hours of therapy. You can’t give them that, but you can always offer them a beer, give them a hug and hold their hair back while they vomit.

So there you have it! Listen, and try not to be an arsehole. I know, earth shattering, isn’t it? Well, that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Oh wait, no, I’m unemployed! Anyway, you should program the number for Lifeline (13 11 14) into their phones, too. That’s always good. Oh, and cake. We like cake.

* I say “clinical depression”, but the fact is that in the past year I have been diagnosed as having clinical depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis and borderline personality, so whatever. My friend, who works in healthcare, says I’m just a crazy-arse bitch, which I find rather endearing.

** And it is an illness, by the way. I recently encountered someone who gave me a speech about how people with suicidal depression are “stupid”. I wanted to ask if he described people with diabetes as “stupid” since they are both people affected by chronic illnesses, but then I stopped giving a shit.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

This bit of advice originally appeared in frankie 57.

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