Recently, I had an accident while rollerskating with my family that resulted in surgery on my ankle. I'm 1 week into a 6 week period of wearing a 'moonboot'. Having injured my right foot means that I can't drive while I'm in this dreaded boot. As a result, I am having to rely on friends and family to get me around, as well as help out where they can. Having never been one to ask for a lot of help, I've been put into a position where I have been forced to ask for help. The responses I have got from my friends have been amazing. But it got me thinking about a very common phrase I hear at Grove Psychology when I ask my clients about whether they talk to their friends about how they are feeling, which goes something along the lines of "my friends have their own issues to worry about. I don't want to burden them with my problems".
One of the main symptoms of depression is how our brain and inner voice create negative expectations. When we are feeling depressed, our brain tells us that no-one wants to hear our problems, or that even if you do reach out, no-one will care. We also have less motivation or energy to see our friends. We end up in this position of wanting our friends to contact us, but not wanting to make contact because it's too hard (or a fear of being rejected). When our friends do contact us, we make up excuses not to see them. As a result, we end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy - our friends don't contact us, because we pulled away, and we feel alone and our depressive thoughts start telling us that no-one cares. The barrier, when I speak to my clients, is that we perceive our friends to be so busy they won't have time to help us. Yet, in my professional and now personal experience, this couldn't be any further from the truth.
Our friends often know something is wrong but don't know what to do
I have the benefit of having a very obvious boot on my foot, crutches and a pained expression on my face, which gives my friends very obvious cues that I will need some help. But I still need to accept that help when it is offered. However, depression is not so obvious. There is no cast, x-ray or blood-test that we can show other people. But our friends often know something is up, even if they can't quite pinpoint it. They've probably asked us "are you ok", to which we mumbled some reply like "I'm fine" or "I'm just a bit run down at the moment". Unfortunately the stigma around mental illness and depression often means that our friends don't know what to do. It's important that we tell our friends what we need. In my experience, when my clients have reached out to their friends, they've had very positive outcomes. And more importantly, very positive improvement in their mental health because they've done an activity (which feels good), and they've challenged the negative belief that no-one cares for them.
How to ask for help?
It can be hard to ask for help, particularly with depression. Our depressive thoughts want to convince us that asking for help will burden our friends. The truth is, our closest friends want to help, they just don't know how. Below I've listed a few examples of how to ask for help. As I've discussed in other blogs, depression can make it incredibly hard to do the activities we previously enjoyed. So, rather than going out for dinner and drinks with 10 of your friends, you might want to pull it back to a coffee with a close friend for 30 minutes. That will be achievable, and if you tell your friend that, they will likely oblige.
Here's some other ways you can ask for help:
"can you come over and keep me company?"
you don't even need to talk about your problems, in fact maybe you just need a distraction from the negative self-talk and hear about how someone else is going for a while
"I'm having a rough time of it at the moment"
Instead of "I'm fine" or "I'm tired". Your friends don't believe you anyway, but admitting you are having a rough time gives your friends an opening to ask more or be more supportive.
"can you spam me some baby/cat/puppy photos, I need some cheering up"
Again this gives your friend an opening to ask how things are, as well as a nice distraction talking about their new baby/kitten/puppy or whatever.
What's important is that we tell our friends what we need - we may not need sympathy or advice, but simply company or a distraction. But if we don't tell our friends what we need, they'll never know and may be too afraid to ask.
Sometimes, however, we need professional help. If you would like to speak with one of our experienced psychologists, please click on the 'book now' button.