Every time there’s a newsworthy suicide, or a celebrity overdose that reveals the mental suffering they had been silently enduring for years, social media erupts. Yes, it erupts in sadness and “thoughts and prayers,” but these days it also becomes a trite series of posts imploring friends to reach out if they’re depressed.
The cut-and-paste messages I’m talking about are a dime a dozen on Facebook, especially in recent months.
“Could at least one friend please copy and repost? I’m trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening. #SuicideAwareness.”
Sometimes, friends post just the national suicide hotline phone number.
I can’t speak for the younger generation, but as a mother who has experienced deep states of anxiety and depression, this means very little to me.
Something I never anticipated, both in motherhood and getting older, is that friendships you once took for granted begin to stretch thin. Not because either of you care any less, but because family becomes the priority. Coffee gets canceled because a child is home sick; Girls’ Night Out keeps getting pushed because you can’t find a date when you’re all free; your kids don’t click like you and your girlfriend do.
All of it contributes to spending less time on friendships and more time on your immediate circle. And your immediate circle, which was once your friends, is now your partner and kids.
You and your closest friends love each other just as much, but reaching out becomes just a little more difficult.
But here’s the thing: That moment in time when your partner and kids move to the top of your priority list and your friends slide further down? That’s when you need to be reaching out. Not when you’re in crisis, but when you suspect a friend might be.
Reach out when your friends seem a little withdrawn, or when you know they’re having a particularly tough time with their spouse.
Reach out when their kid is having problems with bullying, or one of their parents isn’t doing well.
Reach out when you’re doing well; because when you’re not, there will hopefully be a friend who remembers when you were there for them and decides to check in.
When I begin to sink into a depression, I feel like a flower folding in on itself. I fold up and shut everything in. It feels impossible to make the effort to reach out for help, because the energy required to explain all the details is simply more than I possess. And, as usual, depression lies, telling me that my problems are laughable and unworthy anyway.
Who would ask for help in that state?
I remember the first time my midwife recognized my prenatal depression, at the end of my first trimester. I had known something was “off,” but when she started asking probing questions and immediately called the psychiatrist to have me assessed, I felt like a weight was lifted. I had spent the Christmas holidays alternating between greeting family and friends with a smile plastered to my face and shutting myself in the bathroom and sobbing quietly. The pressure to feel happy about my pregnancy left me assuming I couldn’t share my real feelings with friends, and I spent some very dark months isolated and alone.
When I finally told my best friend what was going on, she began calling or texting to check in virtually every day. There was no pressure to give an in-depth reply, she told me. A thumbs-up or “not great” was all she needed to hear so she knew what to do next. Honestly, her check ins — not just then, but throughout my adult life — have been one of the things I’ve treasure most about her. So much so that I’ve tried hard to pay it back to her, but I’ve also paid it forward with another friend, when I knew she was going through a difficult time.
The difference between going through a dark time while you have someone checking in, versus going through that same darkness alone, can be the difference between life and (almost) death. At least it was for me. I’m not going to claim that will be the case for everyone, because we’re all different versions of broken. Kate Spade might have had a few girlfriends checking in on her in the days before she died, and she might have felt compelled to end her life anyway.
What I do know is that when you’re stuck in a cycle of depression, a friend reaching out to see how you’re doing — how you’re really doing — is like balm for the soul. So next time you think about posting a note on Facebook about always being available if someone needs to talk, why not reach out to a friend who’s been quieter than normal instead? It may be exactly what that friend needs to hear.