How to Help a Friend with Depression

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How to Help a Friend with Depression. It isn’t always easy to know how to help a friend with depression. Learn the symptoms of depression, how to check in and 8 ways to offer mental health support.

If you are wanting to support a friend going through depression but not sure how, we’ve got your back. Depression affects millions of people worldwide, and the chances are that someone you care about is struggling with it. It’s crucial to offer support to our loved ones during such times, but it’s equally important to remember that being supportive is not the same as playing therapist.

How to tell if someone is experiencing depression: 10 symptoms of depression

How to Help a Friend with Depression

Recognizing depression in a loved one isn’t always straightforward, but it’s the first step toward offering support. Being alert to changes in behavior, mood, and daily activities can help you spot the signs and offer support promptly.

  1. They seem persistently sad or hopeless

  2. They show a loss of interest or avoid activities they once enjoyed

  3. They experience trouble sleeping or sleep much more than usual  

  4. They are eating more or less than usual   

  5. They get easily upset or are unusually irritable

  6. They show less energy than usual   

  7. They talk about feelings of guilt, emptiness, or worthlessness   

  8. They experience forgetfulness or trouble concentrating 

  9. They withdraw from friends and family

  10. They might talk about death or suicide

If you notice these signs, approach your loved one gently, expressing concern and letting them know you’re there to support them. Encourage them to speak about their feelings and listen without judgment or offering solutions unless asked for. If it seems appropriate, help them to seek professional help, emphasizing that there is hope and that treatment can help them feel better.

In offering support, it’s also crucial to respect their pace and their decisions without pressing them to ‘snap out of it’. Depression is a complex mental health condition that requires care, patience, understanding, and professional intervention.

 If you’re struggling with symptoms of depression yourself, check out Dealing with depression: 12 tips to help you cope.

How to help a friend with depression: 8 ways to offer support

Remember, depression can manifest differently in different people. While some might exhibit several symptoms, others might show only a few. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms will also vary. Here are some additional ways you can help.

1. Let them know that they’re not alone

How to Help a Friend with Depression

Depression can make people feel isolated and alone. In addition, social stigma can lead to further isolation and loneliness. Simply being there and showing understanding and compassion can significantly lessen these feelings. “I’ve noticed you seem down lately. Do you want to talk about it?” is one way to express that you are here for them. 

Let them know the offer will stay open if they don’t want to talk right now by communicating sentiments like, “I’m here if you ever want to talk”. It’s not about having all the answers—it’s about being present and showing that you care.

If depression is new to you, you can learn more about it through this session on Rethinking Depression masterclass.

2. Listen without offering advice

When someone close to us is suffering, it’s a natural impulse to want to solve their problem and take away the pain. It’s essential to recognize that if it were a quick fix or an easy solution, your friend wouldn’t be struggling. So resist the urge to give advice and instead listen to your friend. 

Lean in with your body to show your attention. Get curious and ask questions. Empathize and offer compassion. Responding with “That sounds really difficult” is so much more powerful than “You should do this…”. Feeling seen and heard can provide tremendous relief for someone feeling hopeless.

For tips on how to be an active listener check out our session on Listening from our Relationship with Others series. 

3. Help out with everyday to-dos

Living with depression can make daily tasks difficult, and not feeling on top of things can worsen the depression. You can lighten the load for a friend who is depressed by offering to help with something specific. 

  • “I’m at the grocery store. Can I pick up anything for you while I’m here?” 

  • “I know things are kind of overwhelming right now. Is there something I can take off your to-do list?” 

Be specific in your offer. Asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?” can put too much pressure on your friend, who may not be able to think of anything or may feel like a particular request is too much to ask.

💙 If someone you love is dealing with depression this Easing Depression meditation could help. Just be mindful not to push them if they’re not open to trying it. 

4. Offer to help them find additional support

If your friend expresses interest in seeking professional support, you could offer to help figure out available resources and give them options and, if they wish it, help them choose. Research local mental healthcare providers and support groups. Consider asking other people in your network for referrals without revealing who is seeking support. 

If your friend is a reader or podcast listener, consider those sorts of options too—but be selective so your list isn’t overwhelming. Depression can take up a lot of mental bandwidth.

💙 If you need more information on how to help someone you love who is struggling, you can reach out to SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s a confidential and free service available 24/7, every day of the year, offering support in both English and Spanish. They can guide you to local treatment facilities, support groups, and other community-based organizations.

5. Keep inviting them to events

People experiencing depression may not reach out to friends very often. They may also cancel at the last minute or not show up. Be understanding, and don’t take it personally. This could be one way they’re managing their symptoms. Keep inviting them, and let them know it’s okay if they can’t keep plans with you. You’re not going away and are glad to be with them whenever they are up for it. 

It’s also important to emphasize that you enjoy their company even when they are sad and don’t feel themselves. Many people withdraw when depressed because they feel shame about not being ‘fun’ enough or ‘interesting’ enough. Let them know it’s okay just to be real with you.

6. Make sure your friend has emergency contacts

Ensure your friend has access to emergency contacts and mental health hotlines, especially if they express suicidal thoughts or self-harm tendencies. Knowing what to do and who to call in a crisis can be life-saving.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of crisis centers in different parts of the world. Find the hotline or resource most appropriate for your friend and make sure they have it.

💙 In the US, those experiencing suicidal ideation  can call or text 988 for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. It’s available 24 hours every day and is free and private. They also have a Lifeline Chat. Contact emergency services if you’re concerned that someone has, or will, harm themselves.

7. Encourage them in their chosen path

Support their decisions regarding treatment and self-care. Everyone’s journey is unique, and positive reinforcement can boost their morale and help them stay on track.

If you notice a friend’s mood is improving with a particular therapy, medication, or habit they’ve chosen, give them that feedback. “You seem to be having more good days since you started [  ________ ]. Do you feel that way too?” That objective input from someone caring can be helpful to remember on the days when keeping with the habit feels difficult.

8. Stay in touch

Regular check-ins can provide continued support and show your friend that you’re there for them, helping them feel valued and understood.

A quick email, call, or text that says, “I’m thinking of you,” lets a friend who has fallen out of touch know that they still matter to you.

Don’t neglect your own needs

Supporting a friend with depression can be emotionally taxing. Take care of your mental and emotional health by setting boundaries, seeking support, and engaging in rejuvenating activities. Balancing your wellbeing is crucial in being able to offer sustained support. You can be a better friend to others when you’re a good friend to yourself. Helping someone with depression can sometimes feel scary, heavy, and overwhelming, so be sure you’re tending to your own mental health and wellbeing as well.

 If you’re assisting someone else’s depression journey, be sure to take time to practice self-care with our Radical Self-Care series. 

What not to do when Helping a Friend with Depression

How to Help a Friend with Depression

Avoid common pitfalls such as giving unsolicited advice, disrespecting boundaries, or applying pressure. Being supportive means maintaining an understanding and caring approach respecting their experience and feelings. Supporting a loved one with depression involves offering a compassionate, non-judgmental presence, encouraging professional help, and practicing self-care. It’s crucial to stay informed, maintain open, respectful communication, and remember the importance of professional intervention when needed.

1. Avoid offering simplistic solutions

Avoid giving advice like “cheer up!” or “you need to get out more.” This can come off as dismissive and can make your loved one feel misunderstood and isolated. Depression is a complex mental health condition that often can’t always be solved with solely simple solutions.

2. Don’t disregard their feelings

It’s crucial not to belittle or dismiss their feelings by saying things like, “others have it worse” or “we all have problems.” This may make them feel guilty or ashamed about their condition and could prevent them from sharing their feelings in the future.

3. Avoid judging or criticizing If You Want To Help a Friend with Depression

Refrain from passing judgment or making critical comments about their condition, like “you’re just being lazy” or “you’re overreacting.” Such remarks can amplify their feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.

4. Don’t push them too hard

While encouragement is essential, avoid forcing them into activities or social situations if they’re not ready. Respect their boundaries and give them the space they need, offering support when they’re ready to participate.

5. Avoid being confrontational

Approach conversations with kindness and understanding instead of confrontation or frustration. Arguments and conflicts can increase their stress and anxiety, potentially worsening their depression.

6. Don’t invalidate their experience

Avoid statements undermining their experience, like “it’s all in your head” or “you’re just looking for attention.” These comments can (unsurprisingly) make them feel unsupported and could isolate them further.

7. Avoid comparing to others If You Want To Help a Friend with Depression

Avoid comparing their situation or coping mechanisms to others’. Each person’s experience with depression is unique, and comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.