Self Care / Support

5 Ways to be a more Empathetic and Mindful Friend

Friendships tend to be one of the most intimate sources of support throughout our lives. We build and nurture this relationship with utmost empathy and trust. This relationship can improve our social and emotional competencies, thus increasing our self-confidence and mental well-being.

But, not always is the journey a bed of roses. What happens when your friends are not feeling okay or they are clinically depressed? Are your interventions landing them into deeper trouble? Here is a list of things that you might be saying to help them feel better, but may end up making your friend feeling worse. 

When you say: “Listen, it’s all in your head!”

What your friend is hearing: This alienates me from you and your colourful world! It makes me feel more lonely and frustrated and I cannot control my thoughts or feelings. How do I change what’s going on up there in my mind? But before that, can you understand me better, please?

What the experts say: Depression is not in your friend’s head or mind. Depression is a complex mental health concern that brings persistent sadness and loss of interest in day-to-day living. While it is insensitive to call out someone’s pain, it is also important to note that just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses aren’t just feelings but medical conditions that need to be treated.

When you say: “Just Keep Calm and stay positive. You are very negative in life!”

What your friend is hearing: How do I keep calm when I am feeling angry, sad, disappointed, lonely and hopeless all at once? You say I am negative and this is throwing me further into my bubble, where I have absolutely nothing left to feel positive about. My reality is far from switching into calmness instantaneously. 

What the experts say: Clinical depression isn’t a weakness wherein you snap out of it instantly by inducing positivity. It can have an impact on your friend’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. Some of the common symptoms of depression include feeling of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and/or frequent suicidal thoughts. So, asking your friend to brush aside their negative thoughts can cause serious trouble, especially if they are going through a tough time. 

When you say: “Why do you need to be depressed after all?”

What your friend is hearing: Honestly, I DO NOT KNOW. I have no idea why this is happening to me. And you asking me this makes me feel like I’m committing a serious crime when I actually have no control over anything. Maybe you can stop me from feeling like I’m drowning in inferiority. Just tell me that it’s going to be okay. 

What the experts say: Nobody ‘wants’ to be depressed and there is definitely no such ‘need’. Depression can be caused by multiple factors. There is no one reason why such a complex illness has affected your friend. But such demands end up making them feel guilty and more miserable, since it pushes the blame on them directly. Victimising someone who is depressed is not only harsh, but also condescending and dismissive. 

When you say: “Get out, breathe fresh air and go shopping, you will be fine!”

What your friend is hearing: I am tired. I am exhausted. I have no interest in dressing up or going shopping. My favourite Sushi dish from the nearby restaurant feels bland and unappetising. I just want to be alone. Rather, away from you and your harassment. Can you please let me be?

What the experts say: A mental illness like depression is a serious health concern that requires professional and family support to overcome. While asking your friend to get out of bed and go venture outside is positive, it might not come across as therapeutic. Such demands often make them feel harassed and lonely. 

When you say: “Don’t be Lazy & depend on medicines! You can treat this yourself!”

What your friend is hearing: I tried to snap out of this feeling. I really tried, but it didn’t work. Depression slowly started to spiral into a snowball and I couldn’t do anything about it. Now with my psychologist and psychiatrist’s help, I’m starting to see a ray of hope. Are you scared that it’s my secret addiction? Because I have no idea why you wouldn’t understand how treatment for any illness works. 

What the experts say: Treatment plans for depression, just like those for any other illness, ought to be decided by the physician who is treating their patient. While some may advise against medication, it is important to remember that these decisions are strictly reserved for the doctors to make, as per the requirement of their patient. Just like how medicines may cure physical illness, antidepressants and the like also act as a positive intervention towards healing. 

Be Empathetic

Mental well-being is as crucial to a successful life, as physical well-being. Unlike physical illnesses, the language surrounding mental health concerns like depression, stress and anxiety is often burdensome to navigate through. Sometimes we unconsciously tend to support negative stereotypes and trivialise the suffering faced by our friends. This ostracizes them and can tend to do more harm than good. When you take a step further to help your friend, being more empathetic and reducing the stigma within oneself, always helps. 

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