Thoughts on Depression and Reaching Out

With the two recent celebrity suicides, the world seems to be awash with commentary telling people to reach out to friends or suicide helplines etc when they start to feel as if life is no longer worth living. These folks are then being shouted down by others who, rightly, explain that depression makes it hard (if not impossible) for the depressed person to reach out, so you should, in turn, reach out to them.

Which is all well and good.

But here's the thing: You can reach out and it's very likely going to go something like this.

You: Hey, you doing okay? Haven't seen you around.

Depressed Person: Oh, yeah, I'm fine.

You: You sure?

DP: Yeah, totally. All good. Thanks.

You: Promise? You seem a little off.

DP: Oh, yeah. I'm just tired, I guess. You know how it is.

You: Sure, I get it. You let me know if you need something though, okay?

DP (with no intention of doing so): Absolutely.

And then you, not wanting to be that person who pushes and pushes and pushes will, likely, let it be.

If you want to make a difference to someone who's struggling? You need to have been a safe space for the depressed a long, long, long, long time before they've gotten to that point. A safe space where that person has said, "You know what? Life is hard." And you've gone over and crawled into their hole with them and said, "It sure can be, but I love you and will sit here with you with no expectations of anything other than being someone else down here in the hole with you. I won't try to cheer you up. I won't offer unsolicited advice. I won't explain why you shouldn't feel the way you feel or try to get you to look on the bright side, I will just sit here and hold your hand."

And if you've done that when things are hard but maybe not so hard ending it all seems like a reasonable course of action, then maybe -- just maybe -- when you reach out when things are terrible, that person will say to you, after several rounds of deflecting, "You know what? Life sucks and I don't see the point."

But if you haven't been that safe space, reaching out verbally isn't going to make any headway. You're going to have to push yourself on that person beyond what is comfortable. Beyond what seems normal and reasonable. Beyond what you would ever consider something that you should have to do. And even then, it may not matter.

I'm not saying don't reach out. I'm saying reach out sooner. Reach out today, before the hole gets so deep and so dark that it's easier for the struggling to keep digging into the muck than strain their eyes to try and see the tiny patch of sunlight at the top. And then keep reaching out. Again and again, whether the person seems fine or not. Become a safe place for that person today if you want a hope of helping them tomorrow.

But only do it if you mean it. Because depression is always going to suggest that the person offering help doesn't mean it and doesn't really like you. Being friends, being a safe space, can be hard and it can be draining. But if you mean it, it can be so worthwhile.

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