Five ways to help your friends with PPD, depression, anxiety

 In Health, MOM

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?


Friend with Mental Health PPD, Depression or Anxiety

5 ways to help a friend with PPD, depression or anxiety: mental health is no joke, especially when a friend or loved one is suffering. These easy tips can help you when you feel lost as to help those you don’t know how to help or reach. #mentalhealth #anxiety #friends #depression

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Showing 10 comments
  • Tamara

    Whoa, where was this post when I first needed it? Almost to this day 15 years ago, an acquaintance disappeared off the face of the earth. I was worried and I called a couple of times. The one time she would speak to me she said her boyfriend left her, and she had a break down, and she barely left the house because she was scared.
    I called to ask how the was doing, offered to get groceries for her or fill prescriptions, anything to make myself useful, and while she seemed to appreciate that I cared she never got back to me.
    Still today, after we were invited at her wedding, and we managed to meet a couple of times, I still find it hard to “reach” her. I don’t want to intrude, and there are only so many times I feel like leaving a message… So what you’re saying is, don’t give up on her, right?

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud

      It sounds like you didn’t give up on her. If you sent the message that you were there if she needed and she didn’t reach back, I don’t think you need to be a stalker. I guess I just wanted to let people know that sometimes people are freaking out and feel like they are losing everything and with that, their friendships. If you think there is a benefit to sitting down with her and being direct: I know you went through a hard time, do you want to talk about it? I feel like we are here together but you’re holding back and I hope you know that you can be open with me. That sort of thing may be welcomed and if you’ve done that and she still can’t be open, then you know you have tried. If you let her know you are there when she is ready, who knows, one day she may realize she can come to you. But it’s true, others may not feel like they can be open and then that is up to them. You can only do so much but you can’t make them open up. I hope that makes sense.

  • Clare O'Dea

    This is a really compassionate and useful post Tara. It’s true that many people struggle with these issues and try to hide their problems by withdrawing from others.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud

      Thanks Clare, I do hope it’s useful for people. These times can be so tough.

  • Kate

    These are wonderful signs to look for and great ways to reach out in these times in our lives. It makes such a difference if we check up on each other and watch out for one another. That’s what friends are for right?

  • Kate

    This is a really helpful post. I think it’s so important to ‘come out’ about mental health issues. We all feel like we have to hide away our feelings, and it’s so refreshing to think we can be a bit more honest and support each other when it matters most.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud

      Thanks Kate, I like that “coming out” and that is what it can feel like. So having a way to help is so important.

  • Robin Vengadasalam

    Thanks so much for this great post! I have fought with depression for most of my life. It actually got me a couple of times where I thought I wasn’t going to pull out. And both times, there was very little support from anyone other than my husband and kids. The last time was so severe and the main factors triggering it were living abroad in a country that I never felt good in. Not having any support, including the church we were attending. And In-laws sabotaging our marriage. It took me going back to my home in Arizona where the sun shined and where I was surrounded by family and friends. It means everything to have support from people that care! Needless to say, I went back to Germany and stayed for another 3 years and have now relocated to Mallorca, Spain (another foreign country) but where the sun shines and people are friendly 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing such valuable information!!! Robin

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud

      Our place and feeling of connection to that place is so important to our well-being. So glad you did make your way out of those dark places and have found people and a culture and a place where you feel connected and supported. Thanks for sharing your story