This is how to help a friend struggling with depression

Have you heard of Blue Monday? It’s a phenomenon coined by a Welsh university professor, Dr. Will Arnall, who came up with a mathematical formula, factoring in, among other things, weather, post-holiday debt, pressure to live up to New Year’s resolutions, feelings of demotivation and the fact that most people regard Monday as the most depressing day of the week – to prove that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year.

It’s a theory that has been widely criticized. First of all, Arnall was asked by a U.K. based travel agency to come up with the concept as a way to encourage people to take winter vacations. No bias there. Many scientists have also debunked the phenomenon, claiming that it’s impossible that an entire population reliably suffers from depression based on the same external factors on the same day each year.

Whether or not you buy into Blue Monday, there’s no question that January, the ugly step-sister to December’s sparkle and excitement, is depressing as shit.

It’s cold and dark. At least two more months of winter loom ahead, and it seems impossible that spring will ever arrive.  So many of us are overwhelmed with bills from holiday spending. Some of us are coming down from the high of vacations and a break from work and school.

My morning support.

My morning support.

I’m no stranger to the January struggle. Like clockwork, about two weeks into the month, I start to feel the familiar plunge into darkness. It starts with a pronounced lack of motivation, a persistent lump in my throat, and a feeling of conspicuous sadness. I don’t feel like eating and when I do, I want piles of sugar. I cry at the drop of a hat. I can’t fall asleep, or I can’t stay asleep. I have no attention span. Mornings are the worst, when I feel too exhausted to face the day feeling this way.

My husband’s January morning routine is bringing me coffee, holding my hand while I cry, and promising me that this depression will lift, like it always does.

I’ve been reflecting on that minute of reassurance, because despite how desperate I feel, it gives me a glimmer of hope and helps me move forward with my day.

I know that it can be both difficult and frustrating to support a friend or family member who struggles with depression. But my husband’s morning mantra is an example of just one of the small things you can do to help.

Over the years, I’ve learned which supportive gestures work best and might help you support a loved one who’s struggling:

  1. You don’t have to solve the problem, and we don’t expect you to. Just be there with an open, empathetic ear and remind us that you’re there to listen when we need to talk.
  2. A phone call or a text message check-in to remind us that you’re thinking of us makes us feel supported and less alone.
  3. Invite us out. It can be difficult for us to mobilize when we’re in the throes of a deep depression, and we’ll probably refuse time and time again. But one of these days we’ll say yes – and we’ll be so appreciative of your company and your persistence.
  4. Acknowledge that mental illness is a legitimate disease with both physical and emotional symptoms. And just like with any other illness, it takes time and support to heal. Be patient as we go through the process. It doesn’t get better overnight.
  5. Suffering from depression doesn’t mean that we’re in a constant state of misery. There are better and worse moments. If you see us smiling, or if we laugh at a joke, it doesn’t mean we’re all better – and comments suggesting that we are puts us under pressure. Just appreciate those moments of levity with us and look forward to when they overtake the tearful ones.
  6. Be an advocate of erasing the stigma associated with mental illness! Participate in initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk. Your involvement lets us know that you care and helps the thousands of people who struggle in silence.
  7. Take care of yourself. Helping a loved one who struggles with mental illness can be stressful and frustrating. It’s important to talk about what you’re feeling and establish your own support system!

Even though we may not say it, your support means the world to those of us who struggle. So thank you for helping us move toward the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll be happy to bask in the sunshine with you when we get there.

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