When Smiling Hurts: Having a Friend with Depression

Every few weeks I will encounter a phase where I cannot find the motivation to do really anything.  I am not talking about just doing laundry or scrubbing toilets because – really, does anyone ever want to do that stuff?  I mean even the fun stuff like having playdates with friends, playing my favorite video games, or scheduling a date night with my husband.  My heart and mind are in a battle with each other between feeling ever so lonely and yet feeling like such a cloud of darkness, I do not want to burden anyone with my presence.  It takes too much energy to pretend to be happy and since I look sad, people will ask what is wrong. I will not have anything to tell them because I don’t really know.

I just am sad and smiling hurts my face. 

I have depression.

When Smiling Hurts: Having a Friend with Depression

I can imagine that for someone without depression, having a friend like me would be a complex thing: one week I am happy go-lucky and spontaneous. The next week, I am cancelling everything and not leaving my house.  It is understandable that this behavior would confuse someone. I don’t know that anyone with depression understands it either! 

All I know is that I am sometimes feeling on a roll, getting stuff done, and out on field trips with my kids. Then, all of a sudden, it is all terribly overwhelming. The next thing I know, I am cancelling stuff and just want to stay home in my recliner.  It comes and goes. There is a cycle to it, but I have never figured it out.  That said, I wanted to offer a little insight into this complex world. My hope is that will help those with and without depression in their relationships.

If You Have a Friend with Depression

Let me start by saying that no advice on the matter will apply to everyone as we are all unique!  The advice below is garnished from experience and self-reflection on the things that would help and could help your friend too!  If you notice your friend starting to fall into a depressive slump, here are some things that you can do to actually help (not fix or cure) them and really deepen your friendship.

1. Go to Her

When your friend won’t leave the house, go to hers.  You could inconspicuously make sure no one was sick, but other than that, just show up.  Be prepared ahead of time for a messy house and that everyone may still be in pajamas and do not go in with expectations.  Bring the conversation or be okay just sitting with your friend and letting them talk knowing it may not be all sunshine and rainbows.  Some of the best medicine can just be letting someone know you are there. 

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.  And especially if it’s given from the heart.  When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them.  Just take them in.  Listen to what they’re saying.  Care about it.  Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.”  – Rachel Naomi Remen (Kitchen Table Wisdom)

2. Be a Ray of Sunshine

Send an encouraging note. I always feel actually handwriting something is best because it takes time and investment. (Stamps aren’t free!) Just help them remember their strengths and contributions to your life.  No makeup, baggy clothes, messy hair – she is the same beautiful friend – and she may not feel like it.  Remind her.  You could also surprise her and her family with a batch of soup for dinner or dropping off some take and bake pizzas – because if her house is like mine, if I do not cook, my husband is in charge. The only “cookbook” he uses is Googling for takeout.

3. Encourage Her to Seek Help if She Needs It

The stigma of mental illness is real and that can cause people to avoid going to a doctor to get help.  If you think your friend needs professional help, encourage her to seek it out.  Perhaps you could watch her kids for the appointment so that she does not need to worry about how she will do that.  Educate yourself with warning signs of severe depression and suicidal feelings because, unfortunately, that is a reality with this illness.  At the end of this post I will list free resources you can help direct any person to who is struggling! 

When Smiling Hurts: Having a Friend with Depression

If You are the Friend with Depression

I know from personal experience that these following tips are not easy and can be quite risky…but I am going to ask you to do them anyway.  Why, you ask?  Because I care about you and I have learned that life is so much sweeter with dear friends who love you just as you are – even the dark cloud bits. 

1. Be Willing to be Open

To say that there is a stigma in society about antidepressants and just depression/anxiety in general is an understatement. You would just not believe how many barriers can be broken when someone just takes that first step.  Be that person. Be willing to drop your guard enough to state that you struggle with depression.  You never know who may be in the same boat and the doors that it can open – or how much it can free someone else to be open, too.

2. Allow Friends to Love You

This is big, friend.  You cannot deepen a friendship when you keep someone at arm’s length.  Allow your friends to come alongside you and bless you and encourage you.  If they bring you dinner, do not get all worked up about it.  Thank them and return the favor when you are back on your feet or pay it forward when you encounter someone who is struggling.

3. Know When to Ask for Help

Perhaps you struggle with depression, but have never been able to meet with a doctor, get counseling, or talk about if a medicine will work for you. I would encourage you to take that step.  I will never forget the difference that the right medicine made in my life!  I went from constantly drowning and not being able to focus my mind at all to being able to think more clearly, make decisions and leave my house. 

If you have taken that step, bravo! It is a hard one to take!  But do not stop there.  If you get to a place where you need more help, reach out to your friends.  Give them the opportunity to love on you and be there for you; to pray for you and just build you up.  Reach out to them when you are at your lowest and accept their help. 

Suicide Warning Signs

I want to conclude this post with some resources for anyone locally who is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.  The combination of cold, winter months and being cooped up can really add to the stress of someone already feeling depressed or anxious.  Below are the warning signs of someone who could be considering committing suicide (also found here.): 

  • Appearing depressed or sad most of the time. (Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.)
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Feeling helpless.
  • Feeling strong anger or rage.
  • Feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation.
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Exhibiting a change in personality.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Losing interest in most activities.
  • Experiencing a change in sleeping habits.
  • Experiencing a change in eating habits.
  • Losing interest in most activities.
  • Performing poorly at work or in school.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Writing a will.
  • Feeling excessive guilt or shame.
  • Acting recklessly.

It should be noted that some people who die by suicide do not show any suicide warning signs. However, about 75 percent of those who die by suicide do exhibit some suicide warning signs. So, we need to be aware of what the suicide warning signs are and try to spot them in people. If we do see someone exhibiting suicide warning signs, we need to do everything that we can to help them. 

Online Resources:

Online Crisis Chat Support

Foundation 2 Suicide Survivors Bereavement Support Group

Foundation 2 Depression & Anxiety Support Group

STEPPS Support Group in Mount Vernon

Pregnancy & Postpartum Wellness Support Group in NE Cedar Rapids

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