If you've ever suffered with depression, you know how impossible seemingly simple tasks become. The energy required to get out of bed and get dressed seems Herculean. Intellectually you know there is a world outside your bedroom, but that world feels completely and utterly inaccessible, a journey of epic proportions.
If you haven't ever experienced depression, well, congrats. But it's important to recognize that it can be difficult to understand how depression is different from feeling low or having a bad day.
"[Depression is] like being stuck in a box that you can't get out of--a very dark place where you feel so low that even simple tasks are difficult," explained someone who had struggled with depression on Huffington Post. "You feel completely alone."
So how can you as a friend reach someone who is so far down? There's a lot you can say and do. There's also a lot you should steer clear of. If you manage to not say one little word, though, you'll have started down the right path.
Just get out of bed.
Just get some exercise.
Just get some perspective.
Just schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Just thing of everyone else in the world who is worse off than you.
The word "just" implies that even a modicum of effort could remedy the problem, that it shouldn't be too hard. To someone in the midst of depression, however, nothing could feel farther from the truth.
"For many people with anxiety and depressive disorders, everyday tasks that seem 'simple' to others can be very challenging," Elizabeth Duval, an anxiety expert and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan told the Huffington Post.
Seem nitpicky? Think again. The language we use matters. In all areas of discourse, language is being scrutinized now more than ever, and "this is absolutely the time to argue about semantics," writes Kerry Leslie, director of Spitfire Strategies.
"Whether it's deciding to adopt the singular 'they' and include pronouns in our email signature, talking about 'understanding' instead of 'believing in' climate change or saying 'gun reform' over 'gun control,' it's an exercise we should all undergo, and revisit regularly."
This is especially true when it comes to mental health.
"It conveys how we think and feel about ideas and others," Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer of The Jed Foundation, a mental health organization, told the Huffington Post. "We would not say you should 'just' get over a broken leg or a surgery."
So what should you say, you might be wondering?
"What can I do right now that will help you?"
Helpfulness is all about specificity. Your friend might not know how to answer, but you can continue to remind them that you're here and ready whenever they need you for a phone call or a hug.
"I really love ______ about you."
When someone is feeling worthless, reminding them of what you treasure about them can be very meaningful. Be specific. Remind them of the time they rescued a stray kitty or gave the best ever wedding toast that made everyone laugh and cry.
"Want to go for a walk with me?"
Offer to share some positive activity together, like getting a cup of tea or watching a movie. Experts say it's important to take action to help someone, especially if you think they might be in crisis. By including yourself in the activity, you demonstrate your concern.
"Can I bring you some lentil soup?"
People living with depression tend to isolate themselves, and they may decline social invitations, like aforementioned walk. Be persistent. Offering to bring someone something wholesome and healthy to eat is a way to get your foot in the door. You may stay and chat, but you can also tell them you're happy to drop something off. With each bite, they'll be reassured of your concern.
"There's nothing wrong with getting treatment."
A person with depression might feel ashamed about their mental health. Remind them that there is no stigma in seeking counseling or obtaining prescriptions for antidepressants. They wouldn't hesitate to seek treatment if they had cancer or a bad cold. Depression is no different.
If your friend is interested in seeking treatment, offer to help them find a provider or to make an appointment. Just as getting out of bed can feel like an insurmountable task, wading through the options of health care providers can feel impossible. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, The American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are all great places to start.
Most of all, keep in mind how debilitating depression is. Strive to be patient and kind with your friend as they live with depression. You wouldn't get frustrated or fed up with your friend's stomach flu. Think of mental health in the same way.