Saturday, April 22, 2006

What Do You Tell Friends Who Are Depressed?

What do you tell friends when they tell you that they've been diagnosed with depression?

Do you try to make them feel better? Do you just say "I'm sorry," as if someone has died?

I've struggled with depression for over 20 years now. I've been through the therapy, the meds, the bills (so many bills!), even the stay in ICU, the stomach pump, and the extended hospitalizations. When someone tells me they're dealing with depression, I immediately dive into medtalk. "So, what are you taking? Prozac? Ah, that one's pretty good. Took it for a few years, but it left me flat. You'll lose some weight, though. Oh, you were on Imipramine at first. Yuck, I hate the tricyclics. Side effects are the horrible."

On one hand, I think I would be a wonderful person for a depressed person to talk to, because I've been there and I'm not judgmental. I'm not going to tell them that they just need to "get right with God" (how many times have I heard that one?), and I won't assume that they're crazy or weak or pathetic. Sometimes it helps people just to be able to tell them, "I know how it is. I know what you're going through."

On the other hand, I'm not exactly therapist material. I don't have answers. I know better than to offer a pat answer. Depression is something one endures, and it sucks, and, in my experience, it never truly goes away. It's a long road and a burden, and it may be a long time before any faint bit of light appears at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Prayer helps us endure, I suppose, but it doesn't necessarily fix the depression. The most practical advice I can give, if they're even looking for advice, is to exercise and eat right. It doesn't fix the depression either, but it helps.

And then, of course, I check up on them. Ask how they're doing. Give them a call. Send a card out of the blue. Little things like that don't fix the depression, but they help.

Of course, when a friend tells you that they're depressed (as a friend just told me very recently), the last thing you want to tell them is that they may not get better for a while. Because who knows? Maybe they will. Maybe they'll respond better to medication and therapy than I ever did. Maybe, unlike me, they'll be lucky enough to find a good shrink right from the start.

So what do you tell a friend who has just been diagnosed with depression? Do you say anything? Do you do anything?

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