It can be difficult to know how to help if you have a friend suffering from and living with depression. You might be confused by their behavior and you might feel uncomfortable enough to minimize your interaction. If it’s a close friend, you might do things that seem pushy or annoying to your friend. If you have a friend with depression, there are some ways you can help support them without neglecting them or becoming overbearing. Read on for the top seven ways to support your depressed friend.
1. Educate Yourself About Depression
There are many myths about depression, and it’s difficult to support a depressed friend if you don’t know the difference between the folklore and the facts. For example, many people believe that those with depression simply need to “snap out of it.” In reality, depression is a complex disease that has both physical and mental components. If the person suffering from the illness could simply turn it off, they would; the problem is that they can’t.
Others believe that depression is a natural reaction to hard times in life. While the loss of a loved one or a romantic breakup can, in some cases, trigger or exacerbate depression, the disease doesn’t necessarily begin after a loss. It doesn’t discriminate; children, the elderly, and anyone in between can develop depression.
2. Be There to Listen
The most important thing you can do to support a depressed friend is to simply listen to them. Make it a priority to spend some time with them and just let them talk. It doesn’t always have to be about depression or how they’re feeling, of course, but if your friend wants to open up to you, then let them know you’re available.
It’s important to remember that not everyone with depression feels the same way. You might be surprised at what your friend is feeling and saying. Just let them be themselves and talk about what’s bothering them. That shows them that they have a friend in you.
3. Learn What Not to Say to a Depressed Friend
While it can be hard to know what to say to someone with depression, there are some things that you simply should not say out loud because they’re not helpful and can even be harmful. For example, asking your friend when they’re going to get better or if they could simply stop being so negative all the time is counterproductive. Remember, they can’t help the way they are feeling.
Telling them to stop feeling sorry for themselves, insinuating that they’re acting depressed to get attention, or saying that they just need to focus on the positive things in life are similarly unhelpful. Depending on your relationship with the person, making suggestions is not necessarily the best way to help your friend. While it’s true that getting out of the house might help, nagging them about it is not the way to go about supporting them.
4. Be Aware of the Signs of Suicidal Behavior
The worst outcome of depression is suicide. As a leading cause of death, particularly among young people, suicide takes many lives each year. Most people who die from suicide are depressed (note that this does not mean that most people who are depressed commit suicide). Being aware of the signs of suicidal ideation could literally save your friend’s life. Some common symptoms are:
- Intense emotional pain
- Suddenly becoming calm after a bout of depression
- Reckless behavior
- Talking about death or ways to die
- Making a will, buying a gun, or otherwise preparing for a suicide attempt
5. Help Defeat the Stigma of Mental Illness
One important way you can support your depressed friend is to help defeat the stigma that mental illness carries. Many people still think that only weak people become depressed or that mental health conditions are “all in someone’s head.” By taking a stand against this type of incorrect thinking, you can help others in your community become more aware of the reality of mental illness.
Speak up if you hear disparaging words against those suffering from mental health conditions. Do what you can to defeat myths and misconceptions. Talk to others about some of the issues faced by those with mental illnesses.
6. Make Them Laugh
While your friend is dealing with depression, that doesn’t mean that all of your conversations have to be in hushed tones or about serious subjects. Getting your friend’s mind off of his or her troubles, even for just a little while, can be very helpful and uplifting. It can also give your friend hope that the condition is just temporary.
Invite your friend to a funny movie (or bring a movie over if they’re not up for leaving the house). Fill them in on the latest funny gossip you’ve heard. If you have inside jokes with your friend, use them… and if not, come up with some. Bring over a lighthearted book your friend would enjoy or find other ways to lighten the mood.
7. Encourage Them to Seek Help
One of the best ways you can support your depressed friend is by encouraging them to seek help for their depression. Depression is not a life sentence; there are different treatments that can help. Some people do well with lifestyle changes; others find that therapy is their “sweet spot,” and still others need medications. Whatever your friend needs, a mental health professional can help them weigh the options and choose the treatment or treatments that are best. Offer to drive your friend to their appointment or to go with them and wait in the waiting room.
Taking the time to support your depressed friend will mean a lot to your loved one, even if you don’t do it perfectly. Ask him or her what they need and how you can help, and really listen to the answers. If you think your friend is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call for help; otherwise, just being available can mean the world to your friend and can give him or her hope for the future.