We all know someone with depression. You may not be aware that they are struggling with depression, however. With over 300 million adults and children struggling with depression worldwide, it is almost a certainty that someone you know has depression. It may feel difficult to know how to help someone with depression – especially if you are someone who has not experienced depression yourself. First, here are some signs to look for in others that may give you an indication that they are struggling with depression:
- seem sad or appearing tearful
- appear more pessimistic than usual or hopeless about the future
- talk about feeling guilty, empty, or worthless
- seem less interested in spending time together or communicate less frequently than they normally would
- get upset easily or are unusually irritable
- have less energy, move slowly, or seem generally listless
- have less interest in their appearance than usual or neglect basic hygiene, such as showering and brushing their teeth
- have trouble sleeping or sleep much more than usual
- care less about their usual activities and interests
- seem forgetful or have trouble concentrating or deciding on things
- eat more or less than usual
- talk about death or suicide
While some of these signs can be indicative of typical mood shifts, for some people it may mean something more serious is going on. If you do notice any of these changes in your friends or family, or an increase from their normal baseline behavior, there are multiple ways to address this in a helpful way.
First, asking questions and engaging in active listening can be a great way to get someone to talk about a potentially difficult topic. Asking directly how someone has been doing, or saying that you have noticed some different behaviors can feel uncomfortable. However, this may give them the opportunity they need to share how they are actually doing and what they are feeling. After asking a direct question, it can be helpful to do more listening than question asking. Active listening can mean you summarize what someone is saying and repeat it back to them to indicate you hear them and understand what they are trying to convey.
Another specific question to ask is how you can directly support them, or what they are needing. It would not be unusual for someone to say “they don’t know”. In this instance, you can offer up some assistance that you are able to provide for them. Helping them find support if you cannot provide it is also beneficial. Support can look different for each person; support can be scheduling time to talk and check-in with them, connecting them with therapy or therapeutic resources, or offering to assist them with any basic needs such as chores or food.
Taking the initiative to learn more about what depression is on your own, especially if this is not something you personally struggle with, can be helpful, although less directly. If you can learn more about how someone dealing with depression may be thinking, feeling, and functioning, it can feel more intuitive to ask more appropriate questions and offer more helpful support. Besides, constantly bombarding someone struggling with depression with specifics on how they are feeling can be triggering or exhausting. Some level of sharing may be helpful for your loved one, but if they have to feel like they need to teach or explain to you what they are going through, it can potentially bring up more feelings of shame or guilt for experiencing depression.
(Trigger Warning: Suicide) Sometimes, depression can bring up thoughts of death and suicide. It is important to note that there is a difference between thinking about your own death and having active thoughts of suicide. Thinking about death can be a generally normal thought; having thoughts of not wanting to live any longer and planning on attempting and completing suicide, is not. Also, there is a misconception that talking about suicide will bring up those thoughts more for someone, or that it will give someone an idea. This is very likely not the case. Chances are, some suicidal thoughts have already been there. It is okay to ask if they are having thoughts of suicide and to allow them to share what they are willing to share. If they have active suicidal thoughts, discuss going with them to an emergency department to be evaluated, or reaching out to seek therapy.
When someone is suffering from depression, it can be very difficult to ask and receive help during this time. Continue to reach out consistently, but without being overwhelming or bombarding. It may be more helpful than you know to have someone consistently showing up for them when they are finding it difficult to show up for themselves.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Raypole, C. (2020b, February 11). How to Help a Depressed Friend. Retrieved April 8, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-a-depressed-friend