Four Simple Ways to Help a Loved One Suffering from Anxiety & Depression

A short piece that was originally written for my African mother towards the beginning of my healing journey so that she could better help me help myself.

"I love you and how can I support you?"


Words my mother texted me before coming to visit from Kenya in 2016. I was heavy in the midst of a battle with depression and anxiety, I was still towards the beginning of my PTSD recovery journey where my symptoms still raged out of control, and I was freshly pregnant with my son (unbeknown to me at the time). If she was coming to visit she needed to be prepared and she needed to be helpful if she was going to be in my space. I am very blessed to have a mother who loves me enough to grow, heal, better herself, and educated herself on mental illness over the years. God bless her ("momma I love you P.O.P Hold it down").



Simple ways to be supportive:


Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders, with over 40 million American adults suffering from anxiety. And although the typical onset age is 11 years old, only about 1/3 of affected adults receive treatment. While awareness is growing as the discussion of mental health comes to the forefront, there is still a general lack of understanding and knowledge around many mental health issues. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health; Anxiety and Depression Association of America)


Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders, with over 40 million American adults suffering from anxiety. And although the typical onset age is 11 years old, only about 1/3 of affected adults receive treatment. While awareness is growing as the discussion of mental health comes to the forefront, there is still a general lack of understanding and knowledge around many mental health issues. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health; Anxiety and Depression Association of America)


Often well-meaning loved ones do more harm than good in their efforts to help. Due to the taboo nature of mental illness within the Black community, many elders are ignorant. Many do not know how to provide adequate support to their family members battling mental illness, although they may desperately want to. It can also be hard for those amid a mental health battle to explain what they are experiencing and properly communicate what they need. The combination of these factors can easily lead to the person suffering to feel isolated and alone.


I am writing this article for the family and friends of people suffering from anxiety disorders. I hope this article will help shed light on what living with anxiety and depression is like and provide tools to help those you love. Here are four ways you can help, not hinder, the ones you love. You’d be surprised how far a little sensitivity and compassion can go!


1) Recognize the triggers; timing is everything!

Certain situations, environments, times of the day, or even of year can affect and trigger people with anxiety and depression. Triggers vary from person to person, so it is essential to listen and pay attention. If you notice something gets them tense or frantic, try to remember it and steer clear. If they tell you something causes them anxiety, you should take it seriously and respect what they tell you. Timing your demands or complaints is key to people with anxiety and depression. No one is saying your feelings and needs shouldn’t matter, but if you know getting out the door in the mornings makes him or her very anxious, perhaps it’s best to wait until they have settled down in the afternoon.



2) Don’t be overly critical about mistakes or unique ways!

As we were all told as kids, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If the comment is unnecessary, keep it to yourself, simple as that. Anxiety and depression feed off each other, creating a feeling of conflict in the individual. Anxiety says, “you need to be doing XYZ, why aren’t you”? Depression says, “No, not today, maybe tomorrow.” The person then worries more because they feel they aren’t accomplishing enough right away, and the anxiety only gets worse. As they begin to feel more anxious, they begin to feel worse about themselves for not having the energy or motivation to handle said worries at the time. They begin to further doubt in their abilities, and the depression only deepens. It’s a vicious cycle. People suffering from depression and anxiety are tough on themselves already. They feel uncertain about themselves and are already spending tons of energy on critiquing, over-analyzing, and criticizing everything they do. Trust me; they do not need your help in that department. What people suffering from depression and anxiety do need is positive reinforcement. Genuinely reinforce the good about them and remind them of their positive attributes and talents. Do not pick at their flaws. Frequently let them know what they mean to you. You are not to lie to anyone about being perfect, but highlighting the positives the person holds can be incredibly empowering.



3) Respect them, their rituals, and ways!

People with depression and anxiety tend to over worry, which generally breeds a need for control to minimize that worry. Suffers of depression and anxiety have a general sense of feeling out of control. People with anxiety and depression develop unique ways of coping. As long as they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, don’t interfere. Depression and anxiety can lead people to feel isolated from the “normal” rest of the world. It’s essential to make them feel included and not to make them feel strange or “crazy” for their ways. If they need to know the exact plan beforehand and need everything planned out a certain way, make sure you communicate the plan thoroughly once it has been finalized. If they need to go through a morning routine before interacting with anyone, let them do that. Even if it means taking ten deep breaths on the shoulder of the road to prevent a panic attack, sit back and let them do it. Even if you view it as silly, unnecessary, or nonsensical if they feel it is necessary for them and their mental stability, don’t question them. Respecting people’s boundaries even when you don’t understand them is a sign of love.


4) Don’t reject them!

Many don’t understand just how scary anxiety and depression can be for those who live with it. Always living under the fear of panicking at a moment’s notice over something relatively small or being reduced to a crying, panting ball in the corner for reasons beyond your knowing. Restless, sleepless nights, always feeling overwhelmed and wondering, will “I ever get any better?” or feeling like you’re on edge, like you’re a volcano about to explode, constantly scared of losing all control. Those who suffer from mental health disorders can struggle with the fear of losing acceptance from loved ones. In the Black community specifically, there is a genuine fear of rejection or the fear of being painted as crazy, forever misunderstood, and rejected by the community. When someone with anxiety, depression, or any mental disorder builds up the courage to reach out to you, please don’t make them regret it!


One of the bravest and most difficult things for a person who suffers from any depressive disorder is to say, “I need help.” To recognize a problem and say, “I don’t like living like this, I want to get better, but I don’t know how” takes a lot of courage and guts. When someone with anxiety and depression reaches out to you for help, you should feel honored. They trust you with their life. They believe you above all to love them no matter how difficult, annoying, and uncontrollable they may get. Their burden is not yours to take, and that is not what they are asking you to do. What they ask is for you to be by their side while they figure it out themselves and aid and abet them in that process. You may not have all the answers, but you can let them know they aren’t alone and try your best to understand and be sensitive to what they’re going through.