Here’s what you can do to help your friend struggling with depression
According to a trained psychotherapist
With the problem of depression rising on campus and a growing awareness around the importance of mental wellbeing, comes a fundamental question: how can we help our friends struggling when they’re not receiving the support they need?
The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Survey identified that 5,500 respondents stated they had a mental health problem. Additionally, our 2017 rankings revealed the number of students telling their universities they have a mental health condition increased fivefold from 2002 to 2015.
However, according to the IPPR in 2017, only 29 per cent of higher education providers have an explicit health and wellbeing strategy. The cuts to funding have left counselling services increasingly overburdened while facing extreme budget pressures.
Alternately, taking the problem into our own hands isn’t easy. It’s highly likely that someone in our close circle will experience depression, but with the lack of guidance and support available, there’s a tendency to withdraw from the issue and hope for the best.
We spoke to an expert trained in psychotherapy about how to actually offer the right support to your friends struggling with depression:
Don’t feel like you have to find the solution
“If you’re a friend or family member, sometimes you’ll feel a strong impulse to try and solve the problem your friend is experiencing. We have a tendency as people to make suggestions and propose solutions to try to help. Your job, however, is to witness their difficulty and be able to reflect on it with them.
“Often what people want is to simply not be alone with whatever they’re going through, and to feel heard. The act of speaking about it out loud to someone we can trust means it gets processed through the talking and we feel less daunted by the situation”.
On Fika, people are able to talk through their thoughts anonymously in a safe space. You can help them feel heard by becoming a listener on the app – register your interest here.
Allow them space to reflect
“Think about it this way – if your friend has a gambling addiction, and you say you’re going to help them stop gambling, when they go back to the casino you’re going to feel let down. You’ll get drawn into an unhealthy dynamic as a result, and if you keep on at them, they’re going to perceive you in a negative light.
“The same goes for depression – the person you’re trying to help has to make a conscious choice to help themselves, and to do that they need to have the capacity to think and reflect. You have to allow them the headspace to manage their difficulties. Withdrawal is not the solution – you’ve got to empower people”.
Encourage them to stay socially engaged
“It’s clear that exercise and getting out of the house have a significant impact on our hormones and our mood. When we’re having difficulties in our day-to-day lives, it’s important to stay engaged with others.
“The danger with depression is that we may shut down. We can fall into escapist behaviour or get very aggressive. Keeping your friend physically active, like going for a run or to the gym together, as well as social outings like house dinners will help prevent them getting to this point. A strong, positive support network is crucial.”
Make them feel safe enough to talk about what’s wrong
“For a lot of people, if they’re feeling insecure about themselves, they might not talk to those around them for fear of judgement. Sometimes we can feel there is a social expectation to be able to cope on our own or to present ourselves to others as confident, able and self-sufficient.
“If you’re able to extend a hand, let them know that you care about them and give them a space to let out these anxieties, they’re far more likely to open up and feel better for it.”
Listen, listen, listen
“If your friend comes to you and says that they’re feeling low, ask them why and listen to them. It’s not a case of sitting in silence, it’s listening with an open mind and letting them know that you’re in their corner. You have to give them that confidence and trust.
“If you’re a good listener and this helps someone explore themselves a little more, it’s a massive step towards a resolution. The last thing you want them to feel is isolated
If you want to help others and enhance your listening skills, become a Fika Listener here – you’ll listen to people anonymously on the app, and be the helpful ear they need when going through what’s on their mind.
Assure them that they’re not alone
“Students are in a very pressured situation – there’s uncertainty, expectations, and a big transition into the unknown.
“A helpful way of thinking about mental wellbeing is having the resilience to manage these difficulties, not the absence of difficulty. The best thing you can do as a friend is let them know that what they’re going through isn’t irregular. The scariest thing is thinking that you’re on your own with no explanation for how you’re feeling. Normalising and promoting the simple act of talking about how we feel and supporting others to do the same is a step in the right direction”.
If you’re worried about a friend’s mental wellbeing, it’s very important that they seek professional support.