How do you serve a friend in despair?
This article hurt.
David Brooks reflects on his regrets about his interactions with a friend before his friend committed suicide.
I think you should read it all yourself, but here are a few takeaways that I hope every leader will take to heart when working with an employee dealing with depression.
Takeaway #1 → Advising your friend or employee on how they can lift their depression is NOT helpful. They don't need things "to do" to lift them out.
Takeaway #2 → DO NOT try to "positively reframe" their situation. Don't say things like Focus on what is good in your life. You have such a great career, and your partner loves you." It can actually have the reverse effect, making the person feel worse about themselves because they can't even enjoy those things you listed!
Takeaway #3 → Small touches really matter. In my experience as a widow, the small touches were often the most powerful!
Takeaway #4 → This is just best said by Mr. Brooks himself. "I learned, very gradually, that a friend's job in these circumstances is not to cheer the person up. It's to acknowledge the reality of the situation; it's to hear, respect, and love the person; it's to show that you haven't given up on them, that you haven't walked away."
Takeaway #5 → It is not your job to coax somebody out of their depression. But you can create an atmosphere where the person can share their experience. Being seen is so, so, so important!
Takeaway #6 → It is OK to talk about suicide. (I would not recommend this unless you have a close relationship with your employee!!!) According to the article," experts say if you know someone who is depressed, it's OK to ask explicitly about suicide. The experts emphasize that you're not going to be putting the thought into the person's head. Very often, it's already on her or his mind. And if it is, the person should be getting professional help."
Look, knowing someone who is struggling with deep depression is scary, disheartening, and sad. It hurts. Your job as a friend is NOT to cheer them up. Your job is to be and NOT walk away.
What Mr. Brooks says in this article is nothing new. But it's an important reminder.
Your being is the most important way you can help as a friend, colleague, and boss. The being part is the most crucial part!
It was so important to us before and after Art died that there is a whole chapter in my book titled, How to Be a Human Being, Not a Human Doing!
Your job is NEVER to fix anything. The deep wound they have can not be fixed. Your job is to love them. It is that simple and that complicated.
The novelist William Styron "I experienced a curious inner convulsion that I can describe only as despair beyond despair. It came out of the cold night; I did not think such anguish possible."
Perhaps the most useful thing I did was send him a video. My friend Mike Gerson, a Washington Post columnist, had been hospitalized with depression in early 2019. Depression, he said, was a "malfunction of the instrument we use to determine reality." Then he talked about the lying voices that had taken up residence in his mind, spewing out their vicious clichés: You are a burden to your friends, you have no future, no one would miss you.
It's not about you
The experts say if you know someone who is depressed, it's OK to ask explicitly about suicide. The experts emphasize that you're not going to be putting the thought into the person's head. Very often it's already on her or his mind. And if it is, the person should be getting professional help.
If you are thinking about suicide
I strongly believe that he erroneously convinced himself that he was doing this to help his family and ease the hardship his illness had caused them. Living now in the wreckage, I can tell you that if you ever find yourself having that thought, it is completely wrong.
If I'm ever in a similar situation again, I'll know that you don't have to try to coax somebody out of depression. It's enough to show that you are trying to understand what this troubled soul is enduring. It's enough to create an atmosphere in which the sufferer can share her experience. It's enough to offer him or her the comfort of being seen.
My friend Nat Eddy, who also accompanied Pete through those final years, wrote to me recently: "Do whatever it is you do to give the wives and children a break — an hour or two when they don't have to worry that the worst will happen (and pray that it doesn't happen on your watch, because that isn't a given). Do whatever it is you do so you can look at yourself in the mirror. True friendship offers deep satisfactions, but it also imposes vulnerabilities and obligations, and to pretend it doesn't is to devalue friendship."
I feel like I've read a lot about the grieving process for family members but not so much about what grieving is like when your friends die. Death and I were too well acquainted last year. I lost three good friends — Pete, Mike Gerson and my longtime "NewsHour" partner, Mark Shields. I've been surprised by how profound and lasting the inner aches have been.