Skip to content

#WellnessWednesday: How to support someone diagnosed with anxiety or depression

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members’ – Coretta Scott King.

Mental illness is not an individual struggle. It impacts everyone involved, even vicariously. Here are some tips to assist you and your loved ones should you need it:

1. Learn about the disorder.

There are many articles one can read to be more informed about what to look out for with regards to depression. You can check out on articles relating to the diagnostic criteria for both anxiety and depressive disorders.

Information is power. You might still need to work on your own prejudices and stigmas, but having information definitely helps to give more of an objective understanding of what could be happening with your loved one.

2. Listen actively and mirror their mood and energy with your body language.

This gives the individual permission to feel what they feel without being rushed to get over it or finish venting. Sometimes you’re listening with your ears but your body language says you’d rather be elsewhere and that energy is easily perceptible.

3. Save the advice for later. Firstly, help them reflect by repeating their words back to them.

This is another tool that shows that you’re listening. For example, “I hear that you’re feeling a bit stuck right now and that it's making you feel hopeless.”

4. Encourage them to seek professional help.

When an individual gets burnt or breaks their arm, they don’t sit at home and wait for it to heal. Their family members and friends would also not allow this. However, when it comes to psychiatric illnesses, a number of people think that it will just pass, that they’re just in a funk and that it will elapse. Sometimes that is the case, and sometimes it’s more serious and requires serious attention.

How to support someone diagnosed with anxiety or depression

5. Acknowledge and commend any improvement.

“Wow, I’m so proud of you. Just to think that 3 months ago you wouldn’t have been able to say that” This serves as a reminder that sometimes a momentary feeling or low moment does not take over one’s life. There are few things, if any, that are permanent in life.

6. DO NOT CAST BLAME! Even if you think they have no ‘valid’ reason to be extremely sad or anxious.

The person could be wealthy, attractive, social, ambitious and talented. Everything could be working out in their life from an observer’s perspective. However, that does not disqualify their feelings of emptiness, worthlessness or inadequacy and the severity thereof.

7. Try to ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling?” or “Why do you think you’re feeling this way?”

This allows for open communication without imposition or prompting.

8. Manage your expectations of yourself: Sometimes you might not have the energy to listen or be empathic or even be present. Communicate this and your reasons, “Hey friend I know you’re not okay. I’m really not coping with work right now, please try calling (X=another friend, or Y=hotline)” or “Hey friend, I’m also really not okay, I’ll come around so we can cry together and take a nap but I probably won’t be able to be present or empathic right now.

Sometimes we just keep quiet or become distant when we experience someone as overwhelming. It’s very easy to take on the experience of another and combine it with yours which could result in it becoming unbearable. However, merely communicating that you understand that someone is not okay can be effective.

And additionally, realizing that you do not need to be everything for everyone all the time could help you confront your limitations and not hurt people through your ambiguity.

How to support someone diagnosed with anxiety or depression

9. Manage your expectations of the individual: you can’t dictate when someone should be “over” something or what that even looks like.

Again, your opinions, no matter how strong, are not facts. No one chooses to not be okay. Realise that if the person had a choice, they would most probably get over it, stop thinking about it or move on, if it were that simple.

I mean granted; you also know your people. If there are some personality traits that are a bit manipulative or attention-seeking than that’s different. Be able to tell the difference, and in both cases act compassionately and sensitively.

10. Offer reassurance and hope, saying things like, “Thank you for telling me this”, “There is a way through this”, “It’s normal to feel that way” – this helps to normalize their feelings.

Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable – David Augsburger

Words by: Asanda Madi

Share this article: