By Isabelle Khoo
“When you lead a life where you break your own heart every day, getting your heart broken by someone else can make it feel as though your world is ending,” The Mighty contributing writer Kristin Breitkreutz, who has battled depression and anxiety for six years, wrote on their site.
“Losing [my partner’s] emotional support through a breakup was rough. The first question I had was, ‘Why aren’t I good enough?’ followed by, ‘Were my depression and anxiety too much?’”
Registered psychologist Nicole McCance, who owns her own practice in Toronto, says these feelings of worthlessness and guilt are common among people battling depression.
“When someone is depressed and they are broken up with it could feel to them like another failure, another reason they are not good enough,” McCance told HuffPost Canada in an email. That’s why the psychologist says some people “may tend to isolate themselves” and “may get stuck in their negative thoughts.”
If you’ve never had a mental health issue yourself, it can feel daunting trying to figure out how to help a friend who is struggling with both depression and a breakup. However, McCance says it’s actually quite simple.
“Being a good listener is the best way you can be a good friend to them,” she said. “[But] don’t try to be their therapist. Depression is an illness and needs treatment, either therapy or medication.”
Read on for three tips to help a friend with depression get through a breakup.
1. Remind them how great they are
A little reassurance goes a long way. According to Kathryn J. Lively, a sociology professor at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, “affirmations are used to reprogram the subconscious mind, to encourage us to believe certain things about ourselves. They are also used to help us create the reality we want.”
That being said, if we remind our friend that they are great, that the breakup was not their fault, that they’re going to be just fine, we are helping them gain perspective of the situation.
“They are likely blaming themselves and may need a reminder from a friend that they are not all bad,” McCance said.
2. Get them out of the house
“A symptom of depression is withdrawing from the world and wanting to stay home,” explained McCance. “Getting out of the house and staying busy will prevent them from being taken over by their negative thoughts.”
One suggestion the psychologist made was to do an outdoor activity with your friend, surrounded by nature. “Being in nature helps get us out of our head,” she said.
Past studies confirm that exposing yourself to nature can help improve mental health – and something as simple as literally stopping to smell the roses can actually boost levels of happiness.
“[Nature] is associated with reduced levels of stress — which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience … improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially,” Mardie Townsend, a professor at the School of Health and Social Development at Australia’s Deakin University, told Psychiatry Advisor.
3. Remind them that they are not alone
Even though depression might make some people want to isolate themselves, it’s important for them to know that they have a support system, said McCance. Not only is this comforting to hear, but it also lets them know that they can ask for help when they’re ready, which can be hard to do.
“Expressing to a loved one that you are there whenever they are ready to talk is a good start to opening up lines of communication,” noted U.K. mental health organization Heads Together.
Taking care of your mental health after experiencing a breakup is crucial, and while it might seem hard to do, McCance said sticking to a daily routine can help make things easier.
“Things like being social, getting eight hours sleep, eating regular meals can all help improve mental health during a time of loss,” she said. “Reminding your friend that sticking to their regular routine, such as going to work daily, is also important for their mental health. Refraining from reckless behaviour, such as using drugs and alcohol to avoid their emotional pain, is also important.”
However, if a few weeks go by and your friend is still in a bad state, McCance said it might be time for them to seek professional help. DepressionHurts.ca offers resources and information for those struggling with depression and for family and friends trying to help.