Amy is amazing. Every TV show I like, she introduced me to. All of my favourite comedians, I love because she got me into them. She’s spent around 80,000 hours playing Final Fantasy, and she’s the reason I’ve practically memorized every Pokémon evolution, despite how much I don’t want to know them. She has this edgy gamer-girl aesthetic that makes her look like she could kill you, but really she’s an undercover cinnamon roll. We have so many inside jokes and made-up words, we practically speak our own language. I know her pub, takeaway, and cocktail orders by heart. In short, Amy’s my best friend. I’d rather die than imagine my life without her.
But the thing is, Amy has severe depression and anxiety. She doesn’t see herself in the way that I do. Instead, every day, her brain tries to tell her that the world would be better off without her, and that she doesn’t matter. I can’t take that away from her. Believe me, I’ve tried. But I can do my best to support her, and that’s why it’s vital that we cultivate a discourse about how to support friends who struggle with their mental health. So, here’s what we can do:
Check on Them
This is the most basic step, but I think we often forget how critical it can be. Social media can give the impression that there are loads of people out there – that if you’re not checking on your friend to support them, surely someone else is. However, that’s not always true. That’s why we have to be intentional with our support. We have to remember that, no matter who else is out there or what’s going on in our lives, it’s still important that each of us, individually, make an effort to be there for our friends. Shoot them a text. Send them a meme. Give them a call. Anything to remind them that they’re important in your life, that you care about what they’re going through.
Don’t Let Depression Define Them
I know the real Amy. The one who’s a fantastic blend of Rosa Diaz, Captain Marvel and Grumpy Cat. Depression is so great at stealing that Amy away from me, at draining the life and joy and personality out of her, but that’s something that’s happening to her, not who she is, in the same way that having cancer changes your life but doesn’t re-define your personality. That’s why it’s important to not define your friend through their struggles or treat them like there’s something ‘wrong’ with them. Be there to support them as they fight, but always remember who they are, and show them that you see that. Remind them of who they are outside of their struggles and let them see that you love them, no matter what.
Loving someone with depression changes you. Although I never would have imagined it when Amy and I first met, supporting her has made me kinder, more thoughtful, and more inclusive, as I’ve learned about how best to be considerate of someone else’s struggles. It’s also made me angrier, because if I hear one more person say that depression is a choice, that she’s ‘just sad,’ or ‘lazy,’ or ‘doesn’t try hard enough to solve her own problems’, I swear I’m going to hurt somebody. Well, that’s what I’d like to do. But as sick as I am of ableist language and ignorant stereotypes, I’m trying to turn that anger into something more constructive, like education. To take these countless opportunities to tear down the stigma that surrounds mental health. To explain that no one’s battle with depression is their fault or something they can just ‘snap out of’, and to remind people of the importance of being kind. Although I’m primarily focused on practical steps for helping your friends directly, I think this one is important too. It reminds us to use what we’ve learned to help others and in so doing, make the world a kinder, more inclusive place for the people we love.
Be a Helping Hand
If you struggle with your mental health or know anyone who does, then you know that depression and anxiety can make basic daily functions hard. It takes a lot of energy to be a person every day, to go through the motions of running errands, having conversations, and keeping yourself fed and clothed. Some days, I know it takes all of Amy’s energy just to get out of bed, and those are the days when I’m proud of her the most, because I know that even when it’s hardest, she’s still fighting. Those are the moments when it’s even more important to be there for your friends, and to remember that there’s nothing wrong with checking in and reminding them to eat or get a glass of water. It’s okay to encourage them to shower or take their meds. You can even order a pizza to their house to make sure they eat. I promise that even if you don’t see an immediate change, even if your effort doesn’t fix what they’re going through, every little bit of support helps.
The important thing to remember is that loving somebody takes a lot of different forms. You don’t have to spend money and you don’t have to run yourself into the ground. All that matters is that you listen to the needs of the people you care about and love them in the way they need it most. I can’t ‘fix’ Amy’s depression and I know I’m not solely responsible for her mental health. But I do know that she matters to me, and that I want to look back on our relationship knowing that I did everything I could to support her. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we all want for our friends?