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6 Ways to Support Someone During a Depressive Crisis

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It can be frightening to watch a friend sink into a depressive crisis, especially if they have been going along well for a while.

Some may believe their latest downward spiral is a need for attention, or a result of not taking care of themselves. Others may suggest they know exactly what they are feeling, or may make other thoughtless comments that intensify the situation. Sometimes the person with depression isolates him or herself and shies away from contact — at least, that is what I normally do.

If I am depressed, these are a few of the things that have helped me to help myself. I’ve been lucky to have found a good support network over the past year and the friendship and understanding has helped me immensely.

1. Encourage me to talk about how I am feeling.

Understand my symptoms are horribly unpleasant and consuming for me, but I do not always realize I am thinking or acting a certain way because of them. Talking about them can help me to become aware of how they relate and notice I am being unreasonable or engaging in poor coping skills.

2. Help me to identify what triggered the crisis.

It is often something small and seemingly insignificant that can lead to a mental breakdown. Sometimes the simple act of expressing the toxic feelings that are inside can help me to feel better. Often, it takes time for me to admit what it was that “broke the camel’s back” because it feels so embarrassing to admit to something seemingly tiny created such a storm within me. But once the connection is made, it can really help to commence healing!

3. Listen without judgment.

I am already ashamed of my own feelings and the way I am acting because of them. If you are seeing me cry, it is because my pain has reached the point when I can no longer hide it and I am incredibly vulnerable right now. Listen and let me talk, ask questions to help draw me out, but please do not try to tell me you know what I am feeling, or pass judgment on the validity of my fears.

4. Ask me if I am safe.

The most powerful thing someone has ever said to me during a depressive crisis was, “Are you safe?” The second most powerful thing was, “Can I come and sit with you?” Suicidal thoughts can sometimes become obsessive when a person is deeply depressed. Having to stop and think about if they are safe or not can help put a break into the circuit and help refocus them. Don’t be embarrassed to ask!

5. Share your own safety plan with me.

A friend once encouraged me to write up a “Suicide Safety Plan.” I admit I had never heard of it before. Sitting down and writing it out helped me focus and break the cycle of thoughts that were going through my mind. She shared her own with me so I knew the types of things I needed to be considering and the people who should be included.

6. Set boundaries for yourself.

Ask me what you can do to help and be honest if you are not able to be there to support me. I understand helping someone with depression is tough and you may not be emotionally strong enough at this particular time to handle it without it taking a toll on you. Please be truthful about your own limitations. I do not expect you to sacrifice your own mental health for mine.

All of us need support from time to time, but with mental illness, it is particularly hard to know what to do or say at times. Everyones needs are different and how they will respond will depend on what they are going through. But personally, the above things have helped me and I hope they could help you or someone you know too!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.

Originally published: April 17, 2017
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