This past year, first year post school, has been a real struggle for many of the people I love, including myself. And it has presented a lot of difficult moments.
At one point, there was an almost complete loss of understanding about what life meant and what we each wanted to be. . Needless to say, sometimes this confusion about identity led to more serious issues like anxiety or depression.
And although many have considered depression or anxiety to be something small or easily fixed, those who have dealt with it firsthand know fully that it is a medical condition that cannot be wished away.
I would like to consider myself someone who gives somewhat decent advice (you all can decide whether this is a true estimation or not). So when I do discuss issues with my friends, we normally talk about the root of the problem, why one of us feels crappy, and vent about our sadness. Then we both try to do something that can help us in the future, whether it be about a more positive attitude or actually deciding to make eye contact with a guy we think is cute instead of pretending he isn’t there. We challenge each other, and we help each other take a step in the right direction.
But Olivia, you will all say, depression and anxiety are more complex than “being more positive”.
“Fair point,” is how I would respond in return. If you have ever experienced depression or anxiety, you can surely agree with me that you cast a scornful eye towards those who say “happiness is a choice” and “stop worrying so much.”
The thing is, friends: most of those who struggle with either of these diseases don’t have the ability to stop worrying or being sad all by themselves, and that is why they have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. So how can we be there for the friends who are suffering intensely? How do we lighten the load?
The first thing you must realize is that you can’t fix the problem. You won’t have an amazing or insightful speech that will suddenly make their depression or anxiety float away. That song you show them won’t make it disappear. And your ability to give good advice won’t become the cure to anxiety or depression. However, there are many things you can do, and all of these things can put your friend on the path to recovery.
Patience is key. Normally, when I give advice, especially when it comes to a tough love kind of situation, I expect results. If a friend has a problem, and we’ve both acknowledged it together, and then I see them carry on with this issue, I tend to get frustrated. When it comes to real and intense suffering, these things take time to heal from and get past. So being patient with your friend is the foundation for being there in a time of need.
Help them make positive decisions. A balanced and healthy lifestyle can help lighten the load. So anytime you decide to go on a walk, see a movie, pray, sit outside, or read in a coffee shop, ask your friend to come along with you. Normally both depression and anxiety cause you to want to sit inside and stare at the ceiling, so encouraging your friend to get outside and get active with you will help. If they’re a long-distance friend, set up a workout schedule or daily gratitude challenge where you report back to each other about something good that happened in your day, even if it’s something trivial like “I found a penny on the sidewalk.”
Encourage them to talk to someone. Often times, going to see a therapist is the hardest part of recovery. However, having a friend to kick you in the butt and make you talk to someone about your struggles is extremely important and probably the most efficient way to help. I would also like to highlight that there are many, many reasons for anxiety and depression, whether it be a side effect of abuse, or some sort of trauma, or an organic, biological problem. Therefore, you have to realize that you are not fully equipped to help your friend and you do not have all the right words or the proper tools to fix the problem. Often times, you won’t know what to say. So instead of hurting your friend by saying you don’t know how to respond, explain that you are pushing them because you love them and want them to get better, and this can best be done by meeting with a professional who understands their situation.
Most of all, listen and love. The best way to help a friend who is struggling with depression or anxiety is to remind them that you love them and you appreciate them. Often times, those who struggle with either illness worry they are pushing away the ones they love. So you can reduce this panic by listening to what they have to say, but most importantly, letting them know that you will be there through thick and thin.
Ultimately, when I look back on my darkest times, it is not the wisdom of my friends that helped me, but rather their presence and love that encouraged me to rise up. One day, you may find that to another, your voice sounded exactly like the happiness they so badly needed.