When you think someone you love may be struggling with anxiety or depression, it can be very difficult to know what to say or how to interact with them. There may be a certain tension in the air between you because you wish they would just tell you what they are going through, but you don’t want to jump to conclusions and cause any awkwardness or hurt if you are mistaken or they are not ready to talk about it.
If you feel like it is time to start the conversation with your loved one, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Learn about the symptoms of anxiety and depression and evaluate if you have noticed your loved one exhibiting several of the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include difficulty sleeping, drastic changes in behavior/attitude, physical weakness or unexplained pain, chest pain or difficulty breathing, lack of interest in normal activities, extreme fatigue, unusual irritability, and canceling plans unexpectedly.
Of course, there can be additional symptoms depending on the person, but if you notice an overall significant change from their normal behavior or disposition, this might be an indicator that they are battling anxiety or depression.
Due to the stigma that has persisted in society until recent years regarding mental health, many people do not feel comfortable talking about struggles like anxiety or depression. They feel that they are somehow “afflicted” and they feel that this is a burden they should have to bear alone. They could feel ashamed that they can’t will themselves to feel better overnight or that no one would understand even if they tried to talk about what they are feeling.
Be intentional about when and where you bring up the topic with them. You want them to be as comfortable as possible, so find a quiet place where you have some privacy, maybe your house or theirs. If you know that they go to bed by 10 pm, don’t come over at 9:30 pm and expect them to be willing to talk.
When you first approach them to ask if they are struggling with anxiety or depression (or both), remember that they might feel defensive that someone is trying to breach the walls that they have built up. They might feel embarrassed that someone else has figured out that they are suffering or they could feel immediate relief that they are not alone anymore.
Meet them where they are and keep your comments simple. Even if you have been noticing their behavior and researching symptoms for weeks or months, don’t start the conversation with your loved one as if you are presenting all of the evidence for a court case. Say something like “Hey, you don’t seem to be yourself lately. Is everything ok?” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been as happy or excited about things lately. Did something happen?”
You can bring up specific symptoms or observations later on in the conversation if they start opening up or wondering what makes you think something is wrong. But leave the beginning of the conversation a little bit more open so you can hear their side of the story or know not to push them if they aren’t ready to talk.
The most important thing you can do for them is just there. Let them know that they are a priority and your door is always open for them. If you haven’t heard from your friend in a few days, send them a text to check in, but don’t be too pushy.
It may be helpful for your loved one to have a weekly coffee date or phone call with you, so see if you can get something like that scheduled. Having a regular meeting will give them some consistency, something to look forward to, and a set time when they know they can talk to you with no interruptions.
Finally, once you have had a few good conversations with them about their anxiety or depression, encourage them to seek help from a therapist. Spend some time asking around or researching local therapists or counselors in the area and help your loved one find the right one for them. It can be just as overwhelming for your friend to consider talking to a stranger about their struggles as it was for them to talk to you, so just help them along the way.
Maybe you could drop them off at their first session and plan to go to dinner afterward. Or if they would prefer to go alone, text them beforehand to tell them how proud you are of them and that you hope they find some new strength and encouragement during the session.
Make sure your loved one knows that they can reach out to you whenever they need you and that you will do whatever you can to help them find the hope and light they want to find.