It’s not rare for someone my age to know someone else with depression. Heck, I’ve been there myself. It’s hard to find help for yourself, let alone try to help someone with depression. The last survey estimates that at least 7% of all US adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2017. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing depression, please know you’re not alone. Having witnessed how isolating depression can be, here are some things you can do as a friend to support someone with depression. Plus, some things you’ll want to avoid, which are even more important than the steps you take to help.
1. Listen (without judgment)
When your friend is ready, they’ll talk. Let them know that you’re there for them whenever they feel ready. If you want to start the conversation, you can ask things like, “It seems like you’ve been having a hard time. What’s on your mind?” Keep in mind that your friend might choose not to talk. That’s okay. If they do share their struggles at the moment, remember to validate their feelings and show empathy. Have the time to listen to them and show interest with your body language. Their answers might be short, so keep asking open questions (without being pushy) and expressing your concern.
2. Help Them Find Support
Most of the time, people don’t know they’re dealing with depression. If a lot is happening in someone’s life, depression will be the last thing on their mind. I struggled with acne and weight loss for months before making the connection to depression. Your friend might not know where to find support. And seeking therapy or help is a daunting move for most people. You can help your friend find a therapist or counseling service. Nowadays, there are so many ways to seek therapy that are less intimidating. For example, there’s text-a-therapist, there are phone calls or video calls that can be just as helpful as a traditional therapy session. Help your friend narrow down their search and learn more about the different platforms.
3. Support Them Through Therapy
Depression is tricky. Even once they start going to therapy, keeping up with treatment can be difficult. One day they might not feel like going to therapy. Or that they want to cancel their appointments. Try to remind them how therapy has helped in the past and how continuing treatment could bring more benefits. The same goes for medication. If your friend stops taking medicines due to the unpleasant side effects, be supportive. Remind them about the other benefits of their medication. Also, please encourage them to speak with their doctor about the side effects and the possibility of switching medications. Treatment for depression is very different for everyone. People with major depressive disorder seeking treatment are usually dealing with suicidal thoughts and other struggles. For them, residential treatments or medications are the best way to address their mental illness. Having supportive friends that understand their day-to-day life can help them complete treatment.
4. Learn About Depression
Throughout this whole process, you should educate yourself about depression. It’s frustrating and triggering to have to explain your mental health disorder over and over again to loved ones. You can ask your friend about specific symptoms or how they’re feeling, but avoid asking questions about depression in general. Learn more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatments. Sometimes depression is a manifestation of other issues. For example, roughly 16.5% of people with recurrent major depression have an alcohol use disorder, and about 18% have a drug use disorder. Even though everyone experiences depression differently, the more you learn about the terminology and general symptoms, the better conversations you’ll have with your friend. Consider walking to a support group for people living with depression to learn more about life for people with depression. You might be surprised to hear some of the difficulties they have.
5. Be Patient
Depression affects everyone involved in one way or another. And it will improve with treatment – it just takes time. Because depression is such an individualized condition, treatment consists of a lot of trial and error. Even with successful treatment, some people will still experience some levels of depression. Flare-ups and depressive episodes can happen. On “bad days,” remember to be patient and show your support. Try not to get frustrated; your friend is probably more frustrated than you.
Things to Avoid Doing
Just as we focus on doing things to help someone with depression, there are other things you need to avoid.
Don’t take it personally
There’s no one to blame for depression. Your friend is likely to cancel plans, forget to follow up, or isolate themselves a little bit. It’s not out of despising you. They can handle it at that moment. Likewise, you might need a break from your friend at some point. It’s okay to set boundaries and focus on self-care. Otherwise, you’ll be emotionally drained. At any point, be honest about how you feel and give each other the space you need to get better.
Don’t focus on “fixing” the problem
Depression is a mental health condition that requires professional treatment. Making someone laugh isn’t going to “cure” their depression. Someone won’t just “snap out of it,” either. Instead of focusing on “fixing” them, try to encourage positivity and support.
Don’t give advice
As you read more about depression, you’ll see that some lifestyle changes may improve symptoms of depression. But, just because someone exercises more or starts a new diet won’t cure their depression. Remember that depression is different for everyone, and these changes might not help everyone. Encourage positive changes by inviting them to walk, cook something together, or spend a day doing healthy activities.
Don’t compare experiences
It’s easy to say things like, “I understand,” or “we’ve all been there.” but unless you’ve struggled with depression, you can’t tell. And even still, your depression could have been entirely different from theirs. The same goes for comparing depression to something else. For example, “Things could be much worse; it could be cancer.” These statements don’t necessarily help and can minimize their feelings. Just validate their feelings and use comments like “I can’t imagine what you’re dealing with. I know I can’t make it better, but I’m here to support you.”
Don’t take a stance on treatment
Medication is a tricky aspect of depression treatment. It can be quite helpful to some people, but not everyone. Some people dislike the side effects and would prefer not to take them. Regardless of your stand on medications, avoid the subject unless they bring it up. In any case, this is a personal decision, and you should not try to interfere with it.
If you or someone you know has feelings of depression, text the word HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If a friend or a family member has suicidal thoughts and knows they’re a person with depression, call 911 immediately. For help outside the United States, The International Association for Suicide Prevention can link you to resources and hotlines in your country. Remember that most resources are for education purposes only. For medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, it’s always best to speak with a mental health professional.