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How (& How Not) to Help a Friend with Depression

Published:
December 5, 2023
October 8, 2018
Here's how to help someone with depression — including what to do and what not to do.

Your friend hasn’t seemed like themselves lately. He or she isn’t as outgoing as they used to be, has been spending more time alone, and seems to be sad a lot. You wonder: What’s going on? Are they just having a tough couple of weeks? Or is something more serious happening? Could they be experiencing depression?

Depression is the second most common mental illness for adults in America (anxiety is the most common). The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that about 16 million adults in America have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year (which is about 7%).

Women are more likely to experience depression (8.5%) than men (4.8%), according to the National Institute for Mental Health. And if you’re between the ages 18–25, your chances for experiencing a major depression are greater (10.5%). Unfortunately, depression isn’t rare. But despite its prevalence, there is a lack of awareness around the signs and treatment for depression due to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

You can help fight the stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness by knowing the signs of depression and how to help someone who is struggling with it. Here’s what you need to know.

Know the Signs

Knowing the signs of depression is key. Common signs of depression, according to NAMI are:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness and guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depression is different from feeling sad or stressed from time to time. If your friend exhibits the above symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer, they may be experiencing more that just stress or sadness.

Remember, you job isn’t to diagnose someone with depression — it’s to help recognize the possibility that someone might have depression. If you notice any of these symptoms in your friend, gently bring up to them the possibility that they may be struggling with depression. Keep in mind the following when you are supporting a friend with depression.

Know What to Say
Listen

If your friend is struggling with depression, he or she is likely feeling hopeless, tired, and alone. It can be very challenging to feel this way and to feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to. Being there just to listen to your friend can be one of the biggest gifts you can give them.

Ask them how they are doing and listen to them in a compassionate, non-judgmental way. It seems like such a simple gesture, but it can mean the world to someone who is feeling lost in life. Don’t worry about what to say, just focus on listening. It’s that simple!

Check In Regularly

When someone is struggling with depression, they often feel tempted to isolate themselves from friends and family, but in many cases spending time with friends and family can actually be helpful. It helps them to temporarily break the cycle of negative thinking that is common with depression.

While it is important to respect their privacy, it’s also important to check in on your friend regularly just to see how they are doing and to let them know that you care. Checking in can take many different forms, from sending a quick text message, calling them on the phone, or setting up a coffee date. And you don’t have to focus on how they are feeling, you can just simply chat and enjoy each other’s company.

Support Seeking Treatment

Even though seeking treatment for depression is crucial, it can be an intimidating process for many people. Supporting your friend as they seek professional treatment can be extremely helpful for them — it can help take away some of the intimidation or nervousness around taking the first step to meet with a mental health professional.

Similar to checking in, supporting them as they seek treatment can take many different forms: gently suggesting professional treatment, helping them find a mental health professional, driving them to appointments, or simply verbalizing your support. You know your friend best and know what will be the most helpful way to support them.

Know What Not to Say

Knowing what not to say is just as important as know what to say. Remember that the sadness and hopelessness that someone experiences with depression is different and much deeper than having a bad day. It feels all-encompassing and overwhelming.

Some people are tempted to tell someone with depression to “be happier,” “smile more,” and “be more positive.” While these are well-intentioned comments, they aren’t very helpful. Someone with depression would love to be happier or would love to smile more — but it isn’t that easy. So avoid minimizing what they are experiencing by suggesting “easy fixes” or by telling them they just need to get over it. Instead, validate their feelings and experiences and help them see hope for finding a way to get better.

It can be hard to see a friend going through depression and it’s easy to feel helpless when you see how much they are suffering. But the simple actions of knowing the signs, listening, checking in, and showing your support can make a huge difference in your friend’s life. It’s a true gesture of friendship!

Creators:
Julia Hogan-Werner
Published:
December 5, 2023
October 8, 2018
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