I was recently asked by a friend about what she could do as her best friend, who suffers with depression, just doesn’t want to talk about it. This is tough and in my experience often the case. People living with Depression (especially if it is severe) do not want to open up and reveal what it’s like for them.
They often feel so exhausted, dark, fed up, hopeless and isolated that they really are frightened of the intensity of what they feel and where it may lead. It’s terrifying to live with depression and many fantastic campaigns are encouraging people to talk. And in principle I am in full support. But we must remember that getting a conversation started may not be easy, or acceptable to the other person.
In this articIe I hope to share some ideas of how to cope with such a situation.The key to starting a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to talk is to acknowledge that you understand they don’t want to talk. That you ‘re not interested in burdening them with having to explain themselves and their feelings and thoughts to you. You are interested in understanding and empathising with what they feel, not why they feel it.
You can accept their way of being in an open, non judgemental and empathic way, they can then experience you as someone who cares for them, for whom they matter. This may help with feelings of alienation and fear.
If the person does not want to talk about it, it may be because they feel there is no hope and no point in talking. Spend some time even in silence, letting them know you unconditionally love them, accepting them in their choice to feel silent.
Show that you care, that you will listen without judgement, that you are accepting that they may feel alone but that they are not. You are here.
If the person does feel like taking, just one chat may not be enough. It takes time and remember you ‘re being an amazing friend.
You could ask them if they would be interested in a walk with you outside either in the park, or by a beach, or in the woods perhaps...whatever is near and convenient for you both.
Just being together in silence, listening to birds, shuffling leaves about, wading through mud, looking at the sky.
Walking in nature can do wonders for improving wellbeing, which may be useful for those struggling with depression. There is something meaningful about the timelessness and natural beauty of nature and being.
Music is so uplifting and powerful, perhaps you have a piece of music that means something to you both - Play it.
Activities that you could do together might include:
Art - perhaps you could suggest painting or drawing something which depicts your journey in life.
Write - writing can be so therapeutic. You could write together, sharing stories and ideas on life.
Experiencing the outdoors, gardening perhaps? The wellbeing benefits of gardening, are really well recognised. This is something you could do together - gardening connects us with the wonder of being and grounds us in life's simple purpose.
Sharing an experience can be an opportunity to throw ones self into the moment rather than delving into feelings that may be uncomfortable.
We are obsessed with explanations and answers. Forget about it. Focus on what they are saying. Not why they are saying.
If you start asking: why are you saying that? What are you feeling?
Then they may feel they have to:
(a) have to explain to you, which becomes about you and the intention here is to make it all about them
(b) have to defend themselves, because in most cases you may feel they ought to feel differently which again makes it about you, rather than them.
Often people living with depression have had all sorts of treatments or therapies to correct their thinking and adapt their behaviours and are still alone and in a dark place.
In my experience silent internalised rage may become their norm and destructive thoughts and behaviours then happen.
You could help them find a therapist who is willing to listen rather than to fix and correct. CBT is not a panacea and humanistic oriented therapies do help. But really the only deciding factor in therapy is the quality of the relationship the therapist can forge with the client. So their orientation and technique is much less relevant.
So you could look at therapists in your local area or via a therapists directory - help them find a therapist they feel they can trust and who will help them heal the traumas (often hidden from their consciousness) of their history and of their here and now.
I hope you have found something useful in my article I’d love to hear from you if you want to share further ideas and thoughts with me.
Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell is a leading grief and trauma psychologist working in the UK. Most recently she was appointed as the clinical lead for the Overcoming Grief app and has developed strong expertise in delivering digital mental health apps.
You can reach Dr Chloe via her website here