The recent suicide death of beloved entertainer Robin Williams left many people confused, wondering how someone with so many people who cared for him could have felt so isolated. How could someone so popular, so loved, so respected, feel so alone and have such despair that taking his own life seemed like the only option?
What Robin Williams’ death brought into sharp focus was the idea that just because someone appears to have a support system, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still suffering. Depression, anxiety, and mental illness can still be present — and be affecting someone’s daily life — even if they aren’t isolated and alone. For that reason, it’s important for the friends and family members of those affected by psychological ailments to learn to support their loved ones.
Learn to Recognize the Symptoms
The first step to helping a friend with depression is learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease. Everyone has bad days or periods when they feel sad or down in the dumps. However, when those periods of sadness last longer than a few hours, or even a few days, then there could be cause for concern.
In general, when it comes to your friends, some of the warning signs you should look for include:
Withdrawal from normal activities. For example, they may not wish to spend time together very often, will regularly cancel plans, or refuse to even make plans. Even when you do see our friend, he or she doesn’t appear to take any pleasure from the interaction.
Unusual sadness or a bleak outlook. Everyone has a friend or two who could be classified as a “Negative Nancy,” or who is more cynical than others are. However, when your normally positive or optimistic friend has nothing but doom and gloom to offer to the conversation, or consistently cries, doesn’t communicate, or seems angry or defeated, depression could be a cause.
Demonstrated feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, or helplessness that are out of the ordinary.
Significant changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
Increased use of drugs or alcohol, or reckless behavior.
Increased interest in death and dying.
Sometimes, your friend may tell you upfront that he or she has a history of depression or is experiencing an episode. In other cases, you may need to be alert to these changes. Certain triggers, such as a death, a major life change like a move, the end of a relationship or children leaving home can cause depression, and as a friend, you need to learn to recognize when normal feelings of sadness or loss move into the realm of serious depression.
Communication Is Key
Ask anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, and chances are they will tell you that they wish they had known the extent of the problems, and that they would have done more to help if they had known.
If you know or suspect that a friend is depressed, communication is the key. Your friend may not wish to talk about the issue, since depression can often create feelings of shame or embarrassment, so it’s important that you do not push the issue and create discomfort. However, it’s important to let your friend know that he or she is loved, that you care, and that you want to help. Even if your friend is angry with you, or you feel frustrated yourself, don’t threaten, badger, or tell him or her to “snap out of it.” You might think that some “tough love” will help, but depression is a serious disease that often effects rational thought, so your friend may not react positively to your behavior — and could even get worse, believing that everyone is angry and that he or she is only causing more problems.
You can also offer support in ways that are more tangible. Depression often leads to feelings of helplessness, and there is nothing that will ever end the sadness. Show you friend that isn’t the case: Research information about depression and treatment, and show your friend that there are options that can help. For example, if he is embarrassed about taking medication, remind him that he can order prescribed medications from an online pharmacy like Canadian Pharmacy Meds and receive them by mail, saving a face-to-face encounter with a pharmacist.
Of course, sometimes you need to intervene more directly. Check in on your depressed friend regularly and monitor his or her mood. If talk of suicide increases, or you think that she might harm herself, do not hesitate to get help. For example, having a plan for suicide or taking steps to prepare, like giving away possessions, is often an indication that the person is seriously considering suicide as an option, and intervention is vital. Enlist the help of other friends and family, or if the danger is imminent, call 9-1-1, and do not leave your friend alone.
Depression is a serious illness, but it doesn’t have to end in tragedy. Learn to recognize the signs of depression and how to talk with friends dealing with complex emotional and psychological issues. It may be what saves someone’s life.