Before the pandemic, we were suffering from a mental health epidemic in the UK. There is a statistic that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue in their lives. I suspect it is double that since lockdown kicked off. Despite the increasing media coverage, for many, there is still a stigma, especially for men, about opening up about their mental health. Malcolm X once said, “When ‘I’ replaced with ‘We’, even illness becomes wellness” and that is how we can help those who are suffering from anxiety & depression: by doing it together rather than alone.
What can you do to support someone suffering from anxiety and depression?
There is a lot of talk about the need for adequately funded mental health services from mental health nurses to therapists to wellbeing mentors. The key takeaway is that it is a group of people being there for another group of people. But how can we help if we aren’t qualified? The truth is that there is a simple commitment we can make to those we know who suffer from anxiety or depression, and that is: Be a presence in that person’s life.
For many with anxiety and depression, feeling alone can be a prerequisite. The struggle of dealing with the battles inside our heads are real but invisible. These battles result in people feeling they need to cope with them alone. But they don’t. That is the stigma forcing that feeling upon them. The truth is that none of us needs ever be alone or feel alone. If you know someone who has anxiety or depression, step up and make yourself known.
The ways we can make our presence known
The first step is making it known that you are there for that person. Stand up. Raise your hand. Send that message because, for someone struggling with anxiety and depression, that simple action can go a long way. Make it clear that they have a safe space with you.
Creating that safe space requires effort from you. Your friend or relative may want to talk, and they need you to listen. To hear them. Actively listening requires focus and for us to leave judgement at the door. You need to truly listen to what they are struggling with from their perspective. Remember that it is their experience, not yours. When someone wants to open up to you, please do not offer comparisons or claim of harder hardships. To do that is to discount the experiences of the speaker who is seeking your compassionate ear.
Offering advice, however, may be welcome. Please do it in respect for their benefit rather than to soothe your ego. They are a unique individual with their autonomy and agency to make their own choices. Whilst you may offer advice, do not demand or command because whilst that advice may work for you, it may not work for them.
Listening isn’t the only way
There are times when your confider doesn’t wish to talk but just wishes for your company. Offer your time for them for what could be a variety of activities dependent on what they enjoy. You may be asked for coffee or a long walk or a rock climbing session. You may just be required to sit with them. No words. Just your presence. Simply being there with them can help keep their mind calm and safe. Embrace those chances to stand with them.
Another great way of being a positive presence in a person’s life is to encourage them. Anxiety and depression cause huge uncertainty within a person resulting in crippling self-doubt and create a dominant imposter syndrome. Even the smallest encouragement from a trusted person can slow the onslaught within their minds. It could be praise for something achieved or offering support for an idea they have. Again, small actions add up to a significant presence.
My last suggestion is a personal favourite, both for myself and for some of those I have been a presence for in my life. Offer them a hug. That might be frowned upon during the current pandemic, but the hug is such a powerful act that in certain circumstances, it is essential. That act of compassionate human compact is such a gift, and it is a gift worth giving.
There are so many different ways you can support someone with anxiety and depression. These are just a few options, but the best way of creating a safe space for someone with anxiety and depression is to let them lead the way. Let them decide what makes them comfortable and help them make it so.