5 Ways To Help A Friend With Anxiety & Depression, Because Everyone Needs Someone To Lean On

Marc Bordons / Stocksy

When I was 17 my best friend had serious depression. I didn't really understand what it was at the time, and we never really talked about it. So I'd come and visit her every day after school, while she had stayed at home all day, and I knew I'd be one of the only people she'd see for weeks. I'd listen to her, keep her company, and just made sure I was there, without judgment. The truth is, sometimes it's hard to know how to help a best friend with anxiety and depression, but below are a few simply steps to follow that if you're feeling a bit lost.

According to Anxiety UK, more than one in 10 people are likely to have a disabling anxiety disorder at some point in there lives, and right now, 40 percent of disability in the world is due to depression and anxiety. This means it's likely that you or someone you know will experience these conditions in the future, or have already been experienced them.

Everyone wants to be there for their best friends through all the ups and downs life can throw at us, including any mental health struggles they're going through. We all want to know how to effectively reach out to our mates and support them in the best way possible. Here are some tips on how to help a loved one based on advice from mental health professionals and organisations:

1. Create a non-judgemental space

If you don't suffer with mental health issues, it can be challenging to understand the symptoms and exactly what your friend is going through. However, as the Menthal Health Foundation suggests, try to "provide an open and non-judgemental space with no distractions."

"Depression and anxiety are laden with so much fear that it can seem impossible to sort out, and so sharing might feel overwhelming," Psychologist and Counselling Directory member Philip Karahassan says. "They have been judging themselves for so long they don't need another’s judgement too. They may have been carrying around their issue for so long that they are not used to sharing. By allowing them to explore in a non-judgemental setting it will give your friend both mental and emotional space away from the problem so that they can think and feel their way out of it."

2. Support them in seeking professional help

While you can support your friends through a mental health issue, it's important to remember that you aren't a trained professional. Mental health charity Mind says that helping your friend seek professional care and doing some research on their behalf can be a really helpful step. They recommend helping to book doctors appointments, for example, or going along with your friend to their appointments.

Joseph Bernadello, a therapist at Priory Hospital Roehampton believes helping your friend receive a proper diagnosis comes first. "The best placed person to help someone in the long term would be a mental health professional, as an accurate diagnosis for treatment is the best proposition," Bernadello says. "Often counselling is needed to understand and challenge negative and self-defeating patterns of thinking, while determining if the person has rational or irrational anxiety, or a general anxiety disorder, also needs to take place. A clear diagnosis regarding the type of depression is needed, as it may vary in intensity and duration, and depending on its cause, be clinical or a reactive depression. This will determine if long-term or short-term interventions like medication are needed."

Listen

Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to your friend, even if you don't fully understand what they're going through, writes Phoebe, who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, on the Time To Change website. (Time To Change is "a growing social movement working to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems.")

As Phoebe explains, "It is important to listen to your friend and to hear what they are saying. You might want to try to fix their problems or to find a solution to what they are struggling with, but often it is better just to offer a shoulder to cry on, rather than to try to be Superman. Your friend will appreciate you saying, 'I am here,' rather than 'You need to...' People are often tempted to say, 'I understand,' but everyone’s journey is personal and unique to them. It is good to offer your listening ears and to allow your friend the space to express themselves, rather than making comparisons with your own experience."

Be patient

When it comes to supporting a friend going through a difficult mental health period, patience is key. In fact, it's something the NHS explicitly suggests if their advice page about helping a friend with depression. There's no quick fix when it comes to mental health, so patience is important.

Psychotherapist and counselling Directory member Beverley Hills says: "It may sound obvious, but being patient with your friend goes a long way when supporting them through difficult times. Bear in mind that their pace may not be the same as yours as we all process experiences differently; what may seem clear to you may not to your friend, especially when they are in crisis. Let them be what they need to be for as long as it takes, sit with them, try not to rush them and don’t be afraid of silences as they allow the person to psychologically breathe, formulate thoughts or grieve. Be patient, be kind, be there."

Self-care

Caring for someone with mental health problems can feel overwhelming at times. Mind suggests sharing the caring role with others and setting boundaries so you don't take on more than you can handle. Andrea Chattan, Emotional & Behavioural Psychologist at Unravel says that, when you're looking after your friend, you should be also checking in with yourself. "Most of us are more than happy to be there for a friend when they are having a difficult time," Chattan explains. "However, when our friends are going through something more complex, where we might feel out of our depth, it is essential that we look after our own well-being too."

Chattan continues: "The reason parents are asked to put oxygen masks on themselves first should a flight be in danger, is so that they can be the best support to their child. We need to do the same with in our day-to-day life too. By keeping your well-being pot filled, keeping healthy boundaries, with realistic expectations of what you can and can’t do, you can be the best support to your friend without it being at the expense of our own mental health."