Real Stories: Supporting Friends With Anxiety and Depression
“Depression isn’t always easy to notice and it’s uncomfortable to talk about. But when you see a coworker with constant red eyes and tissues at her desk, it’s important to check in.” —Jordy B.
It’s likely we all know someone with anxiety and/or depression—whether we know it or not. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older every year, and it is not uncommon for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder to suffer from depression as well (Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America).
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How to tell when someone’s depressed
Everyone manages it differently, but the outward symptoms are similar. There are a number of different kinds of anxiety and depression, but generally speaking, these disorders can result in prolonged nervousness, worry, sadness, hopelessness and, in severe cases, self-harming thoughts and actions, including suicide.
“I was so sad and so tired. For reasons I could not define, I was completely overwhelmed.” —Gina R.
Here’s what it could look like to family and friends. They might:
- Lose interest in activities, hobbies and work they usually enjoy.
- Sound hopeless or overwhelmed about things as personal as accomplishing tasks or universal as the state of the world.
- Avoid or arrive late to everyday stuff like work or special events and gatherings.
- Withdraw from their social circles and regular communication with family and friends.
- Increase alcohol or drug use.
We talked to folks who experience anxiety and depression and asked them what they need from their friends. Here’s what they told us.
What to do for a friend with anxiety or depression
“I love when I get a random text or a video chat out of the blue. I’ve gone to a couple of virtual happy hours where we laughed, told stories, shared old photos and simply enjoyed each other’s company. My people were supporting me and they didn’t even know it.” —Gina R.
- If you’re thinking someone needs a check-in, there’s a good chance they do. Call, text or pop a note or card in the mail just to say hi. And keep checking in—it can be overwhelming to think about responding to messages, but comforting to know you’re being thought of.
“When I’m really depressed, my self-esteem plummets. I feel like I’m a burden, a bore—someone who doesn’t matter and is in the way. Knowing I can express what I’m going through helps me process my feelings and know what’s real and what’s the depression talking.” —Trish B.
- Listen without judgment—and resist the urge to try to fix things. You don’t have to know exactly what to say. Just empathize, and don’t minimize their feelings or experiences. They’re real and they can be painful even if the person seems fine.
“My husband said to me, ‘You need to talk to someone.’ It was how he said it—calm, concerned and genuine. He gave me the number to his therapist. And I called.” —Gina R.
- If you feel they’re receptive to it, help them find treatment resources. They might not have realized that’s an option for what they’re experiencing. They might be feeling the stigma mental health issues can carry and need someone they trust to say, “Do it.” They might be feeling overwhelmed or lost, and your suggestion could be the encouragement they need to take that hard first step.
What to say to a friend with anxiety or depression
“Some words of comfort that I received were things like ‘You matter. You are a human. You are worthy of love. You can do this. It will get better.’” —Jordy B.
- Let them know you care. Even those simple words “I care about you” can make a big difference. A person with anxiety or depression can often feel self-doubt and question their own value. Letting them know they are important to you can lessen some of that doubt.
“I don’t always want to talk about how I’m feeling, but sometimes I find that the question, asked in earnest, opens me up to sharing, which can be very cathartic.” —Jake G.
- Ask them how they’re feeling. Sure, some days you’ll just get an off-handed “fine,” but other times yours might be just the listening ear they need…and you won’t know if you don’t ask. If you do, though, you should be ready and willing to engage in what could be an uncomfortable conversation.
“The truth is I don’t practice nearly enough self-care.” —Jake G.
- Encourage them to take their self-care seriously (without being preachy); things like exercise, eating right and getting good rest all help with anxiety and depression, and sometimes a person just needs that reminder.
“This winter I attempted suicide and am now trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I’m navigating both the stigma and beauty of coming out on the other side with my head held high.” —Jordy B.
- It’s OK to say the word “suicide.” It’s a frightening subject but needn’t be taboo to talk about. It could save a life.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
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