How to help someone who suffers from anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health issues out there. Millions of people are affected by one or even both issues at some point in their lives, which means that many also find that their loved ones, like friends, family members, significant others, or even collegues are affected by these issues.
The severity and the impact of these disorders may vary from person to person, however, for those who experience it, it’s likely that this affects their personal life, their relationships, their capacity to work and study, and many other things that might or might not be seen from the outside.
Considering the prevalence of these disorders and their potential impact, a question that many people have is not just “what to do if I have anxiety and depression” but also “how to help someone who suffers from anxiety and depression”…
…the support of others can be essential to helping the person get better and overcome the issues that they face but sometimes, even well-intentioned choices and actions may be harmful due to the person’s current state. There are some things to keep in mind and some strategies that may be more helpful than others.
Before discussing specific ways in which the person can help someone with anxiety or depression either by doing or not doing something, it is important to first identify some general principles.
First of all, there are no universal guidelines. Depression and anxiety can manifest in many different ways, depending on an individual’s personal history, biology, and situation.
Some people prefer some things and others prefer others. It is always important to adapt the things that we do to the specific individual and listen to their feedback.
Secondly, it is important to take care of oneself as well. Even when we want to support others, we need to be aware of our own limitations and emotional state. We need to be aware of how much help and support we can offer and what we cannot do. At some points, people find that they may be too exhausted or emotionally fatigued and need to cut down on the support they offer. This is OK, because we need to know our limitations.
Thirdly, it is important to get informed beyond one article and ensure that we have access to good information. There is a lot of information on anxiety and depression floating around, so we should be especially wary of anything that promises a complete cure for these issues or that offers inaccurate sources. We need to be careful with the information we consume and apply with people who are already in a vulnerable state. Considering this, let’s take a look at the main things we can do to help someone with anxiety and depression.
The first important thing to when trying to help someone who suffers from anxiety and depressiondo is to be empathetic with what the person is going through. Many people take a dismissive approach to these issues, especially those who believe that mental health issues are not as “real” as physical ones. For example, it is very common of parents of a depressed teenager to say that they are just being lazy or dramatic or hope that immersing themselves in work and study will help them “get over it”.
This is not an empathetic approach because it dismisses the individual’s experiences and makes them doubt themselves. Rather, it is important to acknowledge that what the individual is going through is real, that it can be difficult, and that it can make even small things much more complicated.
Being empathetic is trying to put oneself in the shoes of the other person and learning more about the experience of someone with mental health disorders.
Avoid cookie-cutter suggestions and advice
A common problem is that our first instinct when faced with a problem is giving advice. This is a strategy that is employed by many when they want to be helpful and supportive, especially by men. People will address the matter of depression and anxiety by providing suggestions like “have you tried yoga?” or “I read that you should avoid sugar”. However, these suggestions may be less helpful than they might seem because they often involve repeating things that are common knowledge or that the person already knows or has tried.
It can feel frustrating for many and is a common complaint that people with mental health disorders and other disabilities have expressed. This can be in particular a bad idea if the advice implies that doing something will fix the person’s disorder or if they should be “trying harder”. So, what to do instead? It’s a good rule of thumb to wait for the person to ask for advice or tips for handling the issue or asking them directly if they want some advice. If they say they do, feel free to say it.
Listening is a very valuable skill that can be especially important for people with depression and anxiety. Listening is one of the best ways in which we can offer our support but, for most people, listening in an effective way can require a bit of practice.
What does it mean to listen effectively?
Firstly, it involves giving the person your full attention or as much as you can. You need to be present in the conversation and engaged in the moment. We often let our mind wander, so work to bring yourself gently back to what the other person is saying whenever you feel yourself slip away to other thoughts.
Listening means focusing also on what the person is saying and not on your ideas about what the person is saying. For example, when we face a person who is very negative, as people with depression often are, we might judge them as being too needy or whiny. However, you might choose to focus instead on the feelings the person is expressing rather than judging them in any way….
…listening in this engaged way can be very rewarding and very positive for the person you’re with.
Be open about your feelings and thoughts
It can be difficult for us to express our feelings, even when these are positive. However, it may be important to express our feelings openly when we are trying to support someone with anxiety and depression. This refers primarily to two things.
Firstly, it can be very useful for you to express your love or appreciation of the person with anxiety and depression openly. It is something that can cheer them up and work to counteract the negative thoughts that are associated with both of these problems (e.g., “nobody loves me”, “I am worthless”).
Secondly, it refers to being open with your thoughts and feelings by expressing them clearly because many people with depression and anxiety tend to spiral into a series of negative thoughts concerning what others think and expect.
By being clear (and letting them know that you will be open and honest with them), you can help them feel more confident with you and less likely to spiral.
Offer practical help if you can
Anxiety and depression can impair the normal daily life of many people. For example, in the case of depression, people often feel fatigued and lacking in energy to effectively do mundane tasks. Anxiety can also be exhausting. This means that when the person is going through a rough time, they can appreciate some concrete help. Ask them what they need or offer to do something specific (e.g., I can cook for the two of us, I can go with you to the doctor, etc.).
When you are wondering how to help someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, make sure to get the person’s consent for the help you are offering. For example, something that can be useful is helping the person get to a doctor because this can be a daunting task, so driving them there or simply being there for them can be much appreciated.
Respect the person’s autonomy and capabilities
People with depression and anxiety might experience some limitations but this doesn’t mean that they have no autonomy or are incapable of doing things. A common attitude in our society towards people who have mental illness is to feel as if they are less capable or more “child-like”. It is important to respect their autonomy.
How can you do that?
The first thing is to avoid second-guessing what they say or describe about their situation, for example, by being dismissive. One thing that often can happen to people with anxiety, for instance, is that they are told that “it’s not a big deal, relax”, which can be frustrating to hear.
The second way to respect the person’s autonomy is to always ask consent even for things that may be beneficial: ask them if they want this specific type of help, if they want advice, ask them what they want or do not want. The only situation where consent may be less significant is when you feel that the person’s life may be in danger due to suicidal ideation or similar problems.
Give a gift with a thougth behind it
It might sound strange but the fact is that giving or buying a gift to another human triggers an ancient mechanism from the cave mane age, deep in the brain, saying that the other person care about us. This becomes particularly effective if the person receiving the gift notice that you have put a lot of thought behind the gift.
This could be to give something that the person really needs instead of just buying flowers or chocolate. A Good example could be a special anxiety or depression supplement. Tell your friend that you have read somewhere that “this is suppose to, potentially, help a bit with anxiety and depression”. If your friend has not tried it then that’s great and, on the other hand…
…if your friend already uses it, that’s also great, because now he got some more for free. Or why not buy a book for handling anxiety and depression. Just rebember that when choosing what to buy, or give, to your friend it is important that the gift is not too expensive, as this could make your friend feel guilty and that is not the response we want with our gift.
Setting boundaries might not seem like something that will support and help people with anxiety and depression but it is. It is important to set your boundaries in terms of what you are willing to do and how you are willing to help. It can be important to do this because, otherwise, people might come to rely on you too much, which can end up being counterproductive…
…it might create a situation in which the person does not rely on their own autonomy, so they lean on other people to a point where it becomes too much. This can lead to resentment and result in the end of a relationship, so it’s better to set boundaries early on where they come from a place of care and self-care rather than a place of frustration. Setting boundaries can make you feel guilty or worried that you are letting them down but it can be very important.
What does it mean to set boundaries?
It means being clear about what you expect, what you are willing and unwilling to do, and what you think is important to say. For example, in the case of anxiety, you might set a boundary that you will not do a specific set of tasks for the person that they might find anxiety-inducing (like calling people on the phone) but you can be there to support them if they choose to do these tasks or find another workaround.
In a work context, where the person with anxiety or depression is a colleague, this can be especially important, because you might only be able to help in limited ways rather than take on all the work expected of the person.
Encourage the person to get help
In many cases, the person with anxiety and depression may need professional help but they might not realize it. This is usually true in situations where the person’s condition is associated with significant impairments, like when they seem physically different, can’t keep up with their daily tasks, and, overall, their well-being seems significantly affected by their conditions.
Encouraging the person to get help might not be something that is well-accepted but if you feel that their well-being is significantly compromised, you might be in a position to speak up. Offer them your support for getting professional help or dealing with barriers that might be preventing them from doing so.
Take the initiative in spending the time together
People with depression and anxiety might feel lonely but lack the energy to reach out to other people. Something that they might appreciate is you taking the initiative to invite them along or proposing a get-together plan. Now…
…people with these issues might frequently say no, but it may also be appreciated if you keep inviting them or making sure they are included in your plans even if they can´t always make it. This is something that may be worth discussing openly to see if the person is comfortable with that but most will appreciate your effort to keep in touch with them.
In general, the main aspects you should consider when you want to support a person with anxiety and depression are the following:
What does the person want and need?
It is important to consider that the person with anxiety and depression may have their own wishes and needs. By asking what these are and respecting them as long as they don’t harm anyone, you might find the best ways to support your loved one. You will be able to respect their autonomy and learn their needs, so you will be able to support them more effectively.
What is frustrating/useless for the person?
Some behaviors may be frustrating or useless for the person because they don’t feel that these are expressions of support. For example, giving advice may be a behavior that appears to be useful to the person giving advice but not necessarily to those who receive it. Ask the person directly what they would prefer for you to avoid doing and saying.
What limitations the person has?
People with anxiety and depression will have real limitations that need to be taken into account. People with depression will feel more tired and more upset with themselves. People with anxiety will worry more and will tend to have a disproportionate reaction to situations you might not understand…
…however, this are real features of the problem rather than manifestations of the person’s whims, lack of character, or other issues. It is important to acknowledge the person’s limitations when offering them support.
What are you willing to do?
There are things you may be able to help with and others that you can’t or won’t do. It is important to acknowledge your own situations or limitations. For example, if the person with anxiety or depression requires your support in the middle of the night, you may or may not be able to provide it. You need to decide for yourself what aspects you may be able to help with and what are too much for you.
Overall, supporting someone with depression and anxiety requires you to know general aspects associated with these conditions.
- How do they manifest?
- What might happen?
- What experiences might your loved one have?
Secondly, it requires you to know the risks and issues that the person might face. Thirdly, it requires you to have empathy for their situation and show that empathy in the choices you make…
…finally, you need to be aware of the individual differences and factors associated with the specific person. What do they like and dislike? How their situation influences their mental health disorders and viceversa?
Wanting to help someone who suffers from anxiety and depression or with any mental health issue can be complex and may require you to do a significant amount of work. However, it can also be essential. The support of the people we love can be a great resource, so whatever you are willing to do may be valuable to the person going through a difficult time, whether you offer a shoulder to cry on or a ride to the doctor.
Thank you for reading the blog post “how can I help my loved ones that suffers from anxiety”
Natural Health Evolution