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So one of my close friends have been going on an on and off change with depression, and their constant state of fear of being lonely. A few months ago, this person opened up to me about a past suicide attempt and how terrible things WERE.

As in, I assumed things were much better NOW seeing how this intimate information was carried out in a mannerism that seemed taking it in stride. But very recently, while casually talking I glanced down and I saw fresh marks of someone who cut their wrists.

This person will be deployed into training (for the military) soon for six months, and before this happens, I really want to approach my friend into what is going on and I want this person to open up about their life more before they are sent into a place where they know no one, feeling more isolated possibly than ever.

And I want to know how to do this without major breakdowns or anger. Any suggestions?

  • Since you know they have been on and off with depression, am I correct in assuming that you have spoken with them about it before? Can you describe how that went for us? – Jesse Jul 5 '18 at 4:59
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    While you can do a lot to be supportive of a depressive friend (and this will be in the answers given), I just want to mention that it is vital - literally - that your friend gets and accepts professional help. On the bright side, the structure and social interaction during military training may actually be beneficial. – GretchenV Jul 5 '18 at 9:49
  • Jesse, I was also with someone who led the conversation, another third party who my friend knew better at the time, and it was them who took the initiative to open up about this information rather than me specifically asking. I myself am very awkward approaching these sensitive topics. – runningonempty Jul 5 '18 at 16:57
  • Gretchen, I hope you are correct on that statement with the benefits of socializing in the military, thank you. – runningonempty Jul 5 '18 at 17:00
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I am in a similar situation with a friend, and while I still look back at some of the ways I've responded and realise with hindsight there were better ways to approach it, I've found this resource extremely valuable.

One thing I would emphasize from it, particularly for someone who is likely to be isolated for 6 months, is to do whatever you can to make sure those checkups happen. Find some normal activity you can do that keeps a dialogue open over that 6 months, and do that. An example could be talking to the person over Skype while playing a video game you are both interested in. This keeps the dialogue open, provides you with opportunities to notice if your friend is in a difficult period, but doesn't make it look like that's what you are doing. It's also a reminder that you are available if needed.

Ask "Are you OK?"

  • Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach.
  • Help them open up by asking questions like "How are you going?" or "What’s been happening?"
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like "You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?"

Listen Without Judgement

  • Take what they say seriously and don't interrupt or rush the conversation.
  • Don’t judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them.
  • If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence.
  • Encourage them to explain: "How are you feeling about that?" or "How long have you felt that way?"
  • Show that you've listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly.

Encourage Action

  • Ask: “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?”
  • Ask: “How would you like me to support you?"
  • Ask: “What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?”
  • You could say: "When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this... You might find it useful too."
  • If they've been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. You could say, "It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I'm happy to assist you to find the right person to talk to.”
  • Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times.

Check In

  • Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they're really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
  • You could say: "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted."
  • Ask if they've found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven't done anything, don't judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.
  • Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.

With the additional notes that

  • If they don’t want to talk, don’t criticise them.
  • Tell them you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and you care about them.
  • Avoid a confrontation.
  • You could say: “Please call me if you ever want to chat” or “Is there someone else you’d rather talk to?”
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    Thank you Scott! I'm going to see my friend tomorrow and I'll try this, see how it goes. I'll let you know what happens – runningonempty Jul 5 '18 at 16:54

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