Five ways to help your friends with PPD, depression, anxiety
As if dealing with PPD, depression or anxiety isn’t hard enough, add to that the stigma associated with mental health struggles and now we’re talking isolation and fear. It’s scary to deal PPD, depression or anxiety and it’s scary to tell friends and even family about what it’s like inside your mind. So it’s not uncommon for someone, even someone already treating her mental health problems, to have rough patches and pull away from friends. It’s hard on them and it’s hard on you. So if you have a friend who is suffering from PPD, depression or anxiety, here are a few things you can consider that may help your friend, yourself and your friendship.
Be open with your own PPD, depression or anxiety
If you’ve been there, SHARE! There is such power in words. You never know how something you say will impress upon someone else.
When I wasn’t sure what was going on, wondering if what I was feeling was postpartum depression or if I was “just” losing my mind, a friend opened up about some of her struggles. I didn’t feel like I fit all of the marks on the PPD checklist so I kept dismissing the possibility. But she happened to say one simple sentence: “it’s not always so black and white, that’s what makes it so tricky.” Her words were the last piece of the puzzle in my mind to get me to make an appointment with my doctor.
Another friend told me that while she was struggling with depression during her pregnancy, something I said convinced her to get help. I don’t remember what I might have said, but somehow they stuck with her and encouraged her to speak with her doctor.
So while you may be hesitant to open up about the difficulties you may have had with PPD, depression or anxiety, remember, you don’t have to know the right thing to say. Just be honest and open. It can be a pivotal moment for someone else else.
Listen as they vent
If your friend is suffering from PPD, depression or anxiety, they may need to unload after a particularly difficult day or week or month. It can come out in a torrent of incoherent blathering or a quiet, tearful talk. Whatever form it takes, it can be an important part of the healing process, releasing stress by laying whatever they have out there for you to see.
Try to resist the urge to take away their pain by cutting off their dark words. At least in the beginning you don’t need to remind them that they are great mothers, friends, wives, artists. Somewhere inside they may already know that they are not horrible people, but PPD, depression and anxiety may make them FEEL as though they are no matter what their logical minds, or your encouraging words, say.
Of course, if you feel they are unsafe, do whatever you need to do to get them immediate help. But if they are safe, if they are just in a dark place, sometimes just letting out the rant, the string of insecurities or difficult feelings, can help them clear their head and begin to right themselves.
The fact that they are sharing this at all is a huge thing. They trust you, they can let you see this difficult side of themselves. Let them get it out and try to hear what they are really saying.
Listening doesn’t mean you have to sit there completely silent all of the time. One nice way to let a friend in the throws of PPD, depression or anxiety know you are listening is to ask questions. It might seem like a cold and impersonal way to talk with a good friend, but practical questions can be grounding. Just little things, like: How long have you been feeling like this? What was happening before this wave of crap came over you? It can give your friend something solid to think about and help take them out of the amorphous cloud of self loathing or fear. It can feel comforting to your friend because it shows that you were listening and not trying to dismiss them or their feelings.
Ask before you offer advice
This, too, might sound a bit distant for friendships, but sometimes someone struggling with mood issues isn’t looking for another perspective on treatments or anecdotes. They may already trying various things to get better. A direct: “Well, you should really try this drug, or get out of the house more, or get back into exercise,” however well intentioned, can come off as short-sighted and as someone who would rather skirt uncomfortable topics.
After you’ve listened to your friend for a bit and the conversation seems open to it, ask if it’s OK if you share your suggestions.
Touch base and don’t be afraid
Struggling with PPD, depression or anxiety is a frighteningly isolating experience. If you’ve been there but it’s been a while, you might have forgotten the agony of the day to day, minute to minute struggle. So try to remember your friend’s position.
You might not be hearing from her much lately or she may seem cold or aloof. Consider if these are protective mechanisms if she is having a really difficult string of days or weeks. If you want to drop her a line to let her know you’re thinking of her, it’s OK.
If you’re worried that she might not want to hear from anyone, and she hasn’t specifically said “please leave me alone” it’s OK to reach out. Even if right now she doesn’t want to chat or e-mail or visit face-to-face, she will remember that you didn’t forget about her. And when she is ready for some social interaction, for opening up to a friend, she may very likely remember that you were there for her.
Don’t take it personally
From the outside, a person struggling with PPD, depression or anxiety, may seem distant. You may feel rejected or forgotten. While it’s definitely not something anyone wants to feel, remember that if you are her friend, this strange behavior is not about you.
There are so many twisted thoughts and feelings that shadow every aspect of life when someone is struggling with PPD, depression or anxiety, they may not be able to cope with a lot of personal interaction. And when they do, it might feel awkward.
If your friend is already getting help, consider whether this is just a difficult time or something more serious. When she is in a better place, (PPD, depression and anxiety may manifest in waves that come and go) make a point to talk with her about any distance her illness may be putting on the friendship. Without accusing, you can ask her how you can help–more space, patience while she deals, a weekly e-mail updates with the latest craziness from your world just so she can have something to laugh at. Open a dialogue with an understanding that she is in a difficult time but you want to be her friend in whatever capacity she and you can deal.
If she is not getting help, or doing anything to address her PPD, depression or anxiety, try to talk with her, express your concerns and then listen and ask if you can suggest something: encourage her to have a talk with her doctor, share helpful blogs or books you’ve read. If you’re worried about her safety, please tell her this and do whatever you can to encourage her to get help.
Here is an extensive list of places to find help in the United States and across the globe.
This post is not meant to be a definitive list of must-dos. Friendships are dynamic and you have to go with your gut. But if you’re struggling with how to help a friend with PPD, depression or anxiety, I hope these tips give you something to think about.
How have you coped with your friends struggling with PPD, depression or anxiety? Did you find it difficult to maintain a closeness in the face of these diseases? What has been the most difficult part for you watching this process in your friend from the outside?