Depression is a serious but treatable condition that affects millions of people throughout the nation every year. Chances are someone you know has struggled with depression. It’s a difficult disorder to live with for many reasons, not the least of which is its isolating nature. People with depression tend to withdraw from others, while at the same time needing human contact more than ever. Helping a friend with depression isn’t hard, but it’s important to know how to go about it. If you’d like to help a person with depression feel better, there are lots of things you can do to help. Here’s what you should do to help a friend with depression.
Educate yourself about depression. It’s a complex disorder with several types and subtypes, and it may show different symptoms from person to person. It’s far from merely being sad. A person with depression may become unusually irritable or moody. Some days they might seem like themselves while other days they may become withdrawn. Remember, a person with depression can’t snap themselves out of it. It’s a medical condition that can improve through treatment, but no one can simply take it away.
Be there. Being present, physically and emotionally, means a lot. Loneliness is always a part of depression, even though people self-isolate. Ask your friend if you can come over to visit. It doesn’t take an occasion or big-time production. You may have to be persistent. People with depression often feel like they’re a tremendous burden to others even though they’re not. Intense feelings of guilt are common in depression.
Ask questions and be ready to listen. It’s best to follow a statement up with an open-ended question like “You’ve seemed down lately. What’s been going on?”
Avoid giving advice. Stay out of problem-solving mode when you talk to a depressed friend. When helping a friend with depression, it’s tempting to try to help them by fixing things. Depression is a physical disorder that leads to disordered emotions and thoughts—essentially, a person cannot be talked back into good health. However, interacting with a caring friend is enormously beneficial. Remember that depression isn’t caused by a distinct problem in a person’s life, and while it’s tempting to try to help “fix” your friend’s situation, that’s not helpful. Be present and ready to listen
Listen, but don’t judge. Value their unique experience by not comparing it to someone else’s experience. Telling your friend about someone else you know who went through the same thing just doesn’t help.
Encourage them. Encourage them to get the help they need, if they are not in therapy. It’s a good idea to have some resources at hand, like phone numbers of local therapists or contact information for support groups. Encourage them to stay on their medications and stay in therapy. Beating depression is a marathon, not a sprint.
Let them know you care. Invite them to gatherings or one on one outings, but keep things loose. People with depression often find it challenging to go out until their symptoms are well-controlled.
Be patient. Given that there’s still a stigma concerning mental health issues, it’s often hard for people to open up about their mental health. Some people have an easier time talking about their emotions than others. Also, be aware that recovery from progression isn’t a straight line. There will be setbacks.
Warning Signs of Suicide
If you believe a friend is thinking about suicide, ask them if they’ve thought about it. Typically, if a person has thought of a way to kill themselves and they have access to the means of suicide they’ve thought about, the situation has become urgent and intervention needs to happen immediately.
Depression elevates a person’s risk of self-harm or suicide. These are some common signs someone is having suicidal thoughts:
- Talking about suicide or wishing they were dead
- Statements about having no desire to go on living or having nothing to live for
- Talking about needing to find a way out
- Dangerous behavior, or an increase in risky behavior especially if it’s new or uncharacteristic
- Extreme mood swings—an unusually elevated mood can be a sign of suicidal thinking as well as a depressed mood. People who are suffering from mania may kill themselves on an impulse.
- Purchasing a weapon, usually, a firearm
- Increased substance use
- Elevated self-isolation and withdrawal, pushing friends and loved ones away
- Giving away their favorite possessions, pets, or other belongings
If you think a friend has suicide on their mind, encourage them to call a helpline or their therapist. Stay with them while they call, or ask if you can call for them. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016 Number 303 – February 2018. (2018, February 13). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db303.htm
Risk Factors and Warning Signs. (2018, November 14). Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/