How to Help a Friend with Depression
Depression. We’ve all heard of it. Most of us will come into contact with it at some point in our lives. Depression is a very difficult serious illness and miserable experience for someone to go through, and it’s something that either you or someone you care about will have to deal with. However, it isn’t just the victims who are impacted. What about their friends? Victims of depression need steady, supportive friends to rely on in their times of need. If you’re the friend of a depression victim and are confused and don’t know what to do or how to help them best, then worry no longer. This article is for you.
StepsTips and Warnings
Acknowledge. Tell the person suffering from depression that you’ve noticed that they seem down or depressed lately. (Unless they have already told you that they are suffering from depression.) If so, tell them that since you now know that they’re sad that you want to help. This will be very re-assuring to them. Sometimes the depressed don’t even feel like telling anyone because of the stigma associated with depression. Also, make them feel like they are needed. Talk to them when you are upset about something or when you want to vent. Trust them with things that you wouldn’t tell just anyone else. This makes them feel very important to you. Depression lies to them and makes them feel like they aren’t needed by anyone. This acknowledgment that you know how bad they feel may be the little “push” they need to start talking about it, and maybe even seek help.
What not to do: Pretend like it is not there or that this is not a serious condition. This is debilitating for a person. They can’t help it. This will make them feel like they are insignificant and that you don’t even take their problem seriously.
Find out why your friend is depressed. Did they just have a bad break-up or did their parents get divorced? Or are they just simply mad or disappointed with life and the world? Ask them what you can do to help. Ask carefully and gently, and don’t get upset if they’re slow to tell you. Some people take longer than others to talk. If they do tell you a list of things you can do, then do them. Usually if they answer a question like this in full they absolutely genuinely need those things from you. What not to do is to ask that and they answer and not carry those things out. This will just send them back into a deeper state of their depression because once again, they have been let down. Especially since it would be by someone so close as their best friend, it could be very damaging.
What not to do: If they tell you why they are depressed, or why they think they are. (sometimes people don’t even know what causes their symptoms.) Be sure to take those reasons seriously. Don’t joke around with them. Do not bring them up in a light hearted conversation, because this can cause a wave of emotions associated with that topic, altering their mood for the worst. Do not bring up what they have told you in trust, in front of other people. This is very very damaging to the friendship and to the person.
Listen. Although you may think that the last thing your friend wants to do is talk to you about depression, you could be wrong. Sometimes a friend just needs someone to talk to. Actively listen to them without judging or giving advice. Depression is an issue that people sometimes feel they must hide, in order to maintain their usual life. Because people see it as a weakness or a cry for attention they feel like not telling anyone. This is wrong though, the depressed person would like nothing better than to feel happy again and be themselves. Either that or they are only just coming to terms with it, let alone the idea of letting other people in on it. However, from time to time, your friend may open up, or express the desire to talk to you. Sometimes they just want to vent. Don’t start spitting out possible solutions until you know the full extent of the problem. A good listener can sometimes be vastly more helpful than someone who tries to offer solutions. When this happens, be understanding and kind and willing to listen. This means a lot to them. This also should mean a lot to you because they are trusting you with something so personal that’s affecting them. Don’t interrupt, don’t try to convince them they’re wrong, don’t give advice and try not to react in horror. It can be difficult to hear about how terrible your friend feels, but remember that they’re trusting you. Value this trust, don’t break it and keep it close. Just be there to listen. That’s the number 1 thing they need right now.
What not to do: Don’t make jokes when they are talking to you. This makes them feel like you don’t see their feelings as legitimate or serious. You may be trying to help by lightening the mood but it is not good for the depressed person. Do not tell them just to “Be happy.” Or “Why can’t you just be happy for once?” or “Lighten up.” “Will you ever stop being like this?” “It’s getting annoying.” This will not encourage them at all. Once again this makes them feel like you aren’t even listening and it makes them feel like their issues don’t matter which could lead to them feeling like their whole self doesn’t matter to you. Don’t tell your friend to stop being depressed or be happier. This is out of their control. Depression is a sickness, not a choice. A depressed mind is the most sensitive mind. Remember that.
Try to understand. Every person’s story is different, and so it is impossible to completely understand. Depression is a very complex and complicated disease. So it is ok for you not to understand where they are coming from. However, keeping an open mind and putting yourself in your friend’s shoes can help you come closer to them. Once you’ve done your research on depression, you should know a lot more about the illness. Apply the symptoms and emotions to yourself, and contemplate how you would feel if this was happening to you. Call upon things your friend has done or told you, and try to understand why and what they mean. In times of need, having someone understand or try too, can be all the relief in the world.
What not to do. Don’t tell your friend that life is still worth living and that this situation will improve and the sadness will get better. This trivializes their pain and will not help. Do not try to make them feel better by reminding them how much better their lives are than other people’s. They know that and it makes them feel guilty about their condition because they feel like they should just be able to be grateful for life because they have it better than a lot of people yet they can’t seem to do it. Don’t ask them to “cheer up” or “snap out of it”. People with depression aren’t capable of just doing it so simply, so be sensitive to that. It’ll only make them feel more guilty about their condition. NEVER tell them that their problems are stupid or that there is nothing to worry about. They’ll stop talking. This can lead them to more suicidal tendencies.
Be There. Most importantly is to just be there for your friend. Be very genuine and don’t lie to them. Don’t tell them things and not truly mean it. Sometimes they can tell and this will hurt them greatly. This a time when they are their lowest point in life. Especially if they are a teen battling with depression. Because they are wasting away their most precious years, and this also makes them sad and guilty because they feel like they can’t just enjoy their life. Things you can do to make them know that you are there is to obviously tell them that. You could say something like “I am here for you and whenever you feel like talking I’ll always be willing to listen and to try & understand.” Sometimes, the thing they need most is just a simple hug and a “I am here for you. Everything is going to be ok.” Also let them know that you value their friendship and that you care about their life. The depression can cause them to feel worthless and not needed. They need to be re-assured that they matter to you and that you want to help them through this. Let them know that they aren’t weak or worthless because they may feel like this because of society and it’s view on this serious illness. If you honestly mean it and can do so with an open heart, offer to be there 24/7. Tell them that you welcome their phone calls at all hours. You will rarely, if ever, receive a middle of the night call. But a sincere offer sends a message of support that will be heard. If you see them in public places, make sure to say hi and notice them. Don’t pretend like everything is ok though, always remember that. Ask them how they feel today and be sure to pay attention to them from time to time because they feel alienated from people when out in the world. Do these things because they feel completely alone and isolated. This is a major side effect of depression and causes lots of suicidal thoughts and tendencies, especially in teenagers. Hug them, hold their hand, physical contact is good for people that are suffering from depression. It makes them feel better and comforted, and safe, so do those things as often as you can. Tell them that you love them and care for them. Give them a shoulder to cry on. Be there.
What not to do: Don’t say you will be there for them and then not be there. This will be very damaging to them. Because they have been let down once again. Also, do not ignore them. If they want to talk just to chat or want to talk heart-to-heart, respond! They feel like you don’t care in the least when they get nothing from you. If you can’t talk or are tired, say that. Don’t ever leave them in the dark. This causes them to worry even more than they already are. And takes a toll on their insecurity. Don’t do things half-heartedly. One of the main reasons people get depressed is because they seem to feel like they care too much or they love people too hard. And they get sad because they feel like they are the only ones being genuine. So do not do things in vain with them. It will damage them greatly.
Be patient. Because depression is heavy, slow moving and unpredictable, it can frustrate and even anger those who are trying to help. Remember that depression is a complex disorder, and try to understand that the depressed person is not herself or himself right now. If your friend doesn’t seem to appreciate your efforts, or is pushing you away, don’t walk off in a temper. Give them space or give them comfort if they need it, and be there for them, no matter how much they believe you don’t need to be.
Don’t push too hard. If it makes your friend feel worse to face up to their problems, do not force them to continue. Sometimes analyzing a person’s past can make them feel worse about themselves and dredge up past traumas. In this case, focus on how they feel now and how they want to be in future, and forget whatever caused them to feel depressed. Leave it in the past until they are ready to either deal with it or let it go.Be gentle. Depression can be dark, confusing and angry, but it can also be tender, hurtful and full of sensitive tears. Don’t yell or be rough-keep your voice and body language soft and don’t force your friend into anything.
Stay in contact. Check in. Call them just to call them. Check up on them occasionally, esp. at night when the depression is at its worst. Text them occasionally just to say you are thinking about them and ask how they feel today. This means the world to them and makes them feel like they matter and re-assures them that you care and causes them to feel more at ease. Support them and ask what you can do to help, of course. When they have severe depression, often times they will confess to you that they sometimes want to just die. But they actually don’t. Most of these happen while driving. So asking them a quick “Are you home and ok?” Will make them feel very cared for. You don’t want to be that person finding out something terrible just because you aren’t worrying about them. Maybe even give them a card or bring them lunch or take them to a movie. This means so much to someone who is depressed. You won’t believe how it will uplift their mood. It makes them feel significant.
What not to do: Is ignore them or blow them off. If you can’t do something tell them. And don’t say you will do things and not do it. For example: “I will call you later tonight.” and then not. or “I am going to get you something!” and then not. This makes them feel like you are just saying that in the moment and don’t even bother to do it later.
Take care of yourself. You have to be mindful of yourself and your mind to in helping this friend. It can take a toll especially if they are very needy. If you need to take breaks then tell them that. Remember though, do not ignore them. Go have fun with other friends, and enjoy your life too. But you have to remember that depression is not them. Your friend will eventually come out of this, and become the person you’ve grown to love and have fun with. Just give them time and have patience.
It is ok to have fun! Not everything has to be so serious all the time, even with depression. Especially if they are already on medication. Sometimes they feel completely up to just doing anything and having mindless fun. Just be aware that their mood can alter for no reason, and do not get mad at them for it. They can’t help it. Just be there for them if that happens.
Encourage your friend not to abuse drugs. People with depression can be much more vulnerable to the negative effects that occur when recreational drugs wear off. If your friend is taking antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, encourage them not to make any changes without talking to their doctor or psychiatrist. Taking more than they were prescribed can be dangerous, and going off the medication suddenly may make them feel much worse. Avoid alcohol as well – nobody is going to conquer depression with a hangover.
Advise them to seek professional help. They may deny that they need it, or tell you that “it’s okay” or they’ll be “fine”. If they react this way, stop pestering them about it for a while. Over time, the idea might grow on them. Depression is not something that goes away by itself after a while. This is probably the most difficult step. Be sensible. If you friend is sounding like they are harming themselves or are thinking of suicide, you need to alert somebody. Listen out for suicidal like comments when they are talking to you. Such as ” I wish I were dead.” or “I don’t want to live anymore. I feel useless.” I’m not good enough. These should be taken seriously.
Depression is complicated. This is a lot to take in. But if you use this as a tool to help your best friend in need, you will be surprised at how much little steps and things you can do for them will greatly affect their illness. When they make it out of their depression, they will be so grateful that you played a part in help guiding them out of it.
Sometimes they just want to vent. Don’t start spitting out possible solutions until you know the full extent of the problem. A good listener can sometimes be vastly more helpful than someone who tries to offer solutions.
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Be gentle. Depression can be dark, confusing and angry, but it can also be tender, hurtful and full of sensitive tears. Don’t yell or be rough-keep your voice and body language soft and don’t force your friend into anything.
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Waiting for them to confront the problem with you can be hard; hint that you’re there for them to make the process easier.
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Depression is still not a very thoroughly understood illness. SRRI medications only have 60-80% success rates. Depression can be a complex tangle of physical, emotional, mental, social, energetic and ultimately spiritual imbalances. Knowing all the treatments options is helpful. Alternative and holistic forms of therapy include: supplements and nutrition programmes (naturopaths or medical herbalists are often very knowledgeable about depression and how it can be treated), herbal medicine, ayurveda, acupuncture, energy healings, EFT (emotional freedom technique), EMDR. Also, things like meditation, yoga, light exercise, rest, doing things they like, prayer groups, gardening, animals and being in the sunlight can help.
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Antidepressants and other forms of therapy such as counselling may actually make a person feel worse for a while. Medication can have many side-effects, and talking therapies may kick up problems and distressing feelings that have been long buried. It is totally normal for a person to find these things distressing; it should get easier as time goes by. Make sure your friend knows you are there for them if they need your support.
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Always be there. Often times them just knowing that your presence is there is reassuring. Let them know that you are here for them. This way they will not feel pressured by you while at the same time knowing that they can come to you on their own terms.
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Do things for your friend. Helping with work, distracting them or temporarily cheering them up, defending them from others…preventing and blocking everyday hassles does make a difference.
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A lot of times depressed people just want to be alone, so don’t push. If you can, try to get them interested in going out with friends and doing things again. Even getting them to be happy again for a couple hours means there is still hope!
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Do not try to make them feel better by reminding them how much better their lives are than other people’s.
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When choosing a therapist, doctor, or any professional, it is vital to find someone who has had experience and has a good knowledge of depression and all treatment options, as well as a personality your friend is comfortable with. It will help to interview people on their approach, and not be afraid to change therapists or doctors if they do not seem up to scratch. People with depression need to be helped by people who have the knowledge, expertise and especially, a real desire to help, rather than treat them like a number or not really listen (which can have damaging effects).
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