How to be a good friend to someone with depression or anxiety

Date

Melissa Pearce

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I have noticed a lot of first-person articles on depression and anxiety lately, but I'm tiring of the confessional tones. They largely tend to be people fessing up to their mental-health issues and that's it. Maybe in the chirpy world of selfies and the fraudulent fray of social comparison, admitting your life is far from Pantone Pink is a huge step.

I, too, have depression and anxiety and while it is terribly isolating, it seems it is not very remarkable. And so I don't need to simply state to you that I have it - that won't set me free. I have no plans to pen a self-help book, I promise.

What I think might be far more helpful is to tell well-adjusted readers how to be a good friend to a person with depression or anxiety. I was recently dumped by one of my best friends partly because of their inability to process me and my suitcase of worries.

And so I have prepared these crib notes for those who find themselves perplexed by a depressive person, yet compelled by their uniqueness to be their friend. Please persevere; a person is not defined by their mental health issues. They can be subsumed by a crise de nerfs and have a wicked sense of humour at the same time.

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People with depression and anxiety often need time alone.

It may be true that I don't always agree to your last-minute pub crawls because I hate your bleak local. But more often than not, I've exhausted myself and want a night in. I can only take on large groups when I feel brash, brimming, bodacious. An anxious person pushes his or her adrenal glands to the limits and needs to rest more than others.

And should I disappear earlier than you hoped when I do venture out, it is simply because two hours with anyone, quite frankly, is often more than enough.

Medication is a delicate issue.

Gently phrased, the following approaches are helpful: "Do you still take that medication for your depression?" Or: "Are you still finding that medication helps?"

Unless you are truly worried for someone's safety or well-being, it is generally very hurtful to say: "You need to be on your meds." Ditto: "Take your meds and call me." Drugs don't really give you a 180-degree mental turnaround in 15 minutes.

Avoid unkind comparisons.

It is unhelpful to bandy comments about that emphasise the anxiety sufferer's difference from "normal" people, or that they are high-maintenance. Last year someone told me: "You are the most highly strung person I know. I'd hate to know what your blood pressure is."

Anxious people are anxious enough having to deal with life as an anxious person. So don't tell them they are excelling at it. And actually, my blood pressure is fine. Thank you.

Don't be afraid to ask us how we're doing.

For example, you might say: "I've noticed you are really moody today. Is everything okay?"

We know we are hard to live with and that you are not responsible for our moods. We don't need caretaking. But we appreciate it when you acknowledge when we are being odd. Sweeping things under the carpet or hiding away in a bedroom compound the problem. And with the anxious and/or depressed all too often living in their heads, conversations on how their day is going can help engage them with the exterior world and process what might be triggering despondent or angsty moods.

Look on my bright sides.

Try to see past my frown and enjoy my sensitivity. You may even remember I'm a good listener. You may also recall that few things make me happier than making pancakes for someone I love.

And I doubt few of your other friends have ever successfully picked up a hot actor at a dive bar using a Mexican wrestler figurine as a wingman. Or danced six hours to Mary J. Blige's greatest hits in PJs with you after an all-night warehouse party adventure.

It may also surprise you that because I am my harshest critic and most trusted tripper-upperer, I rarely see the point in judging my friends. I just wish some of them would treat me with the same respect and openness.