Depression does not affect everyone in the same way, and symptoms might vary.
Medically reviewed by Dr K on 3rd June 2022.
Skip to Your Favourite Part:
How To Support Someone Suffering From Depression
Do you know a friend who suffers from depression? You’re not alone yourself.
According to the most current National Institute of Mental Health estimates, little more than 7% of U.S. adults suffered a severe depressive episode in 2019. According to the World Health Organization, around 300 million adults and children suffer from depression.
Source - The Curvy Magazine
Recognising Depression Symptoms in Loved Ones
Depression does not affect everyone in the same way, and symptoms might vary.
If you have a friend who is depressed, they may:
- appear more sad or tearful than usual
- look more gloomy or skeptical about the future
- More often than usual, discuss feelings of remorse, emptiness, or worthlessness.
- seem to be less interested in spending time together or converse less often than they would ordinarily
- get easily agitated or seem extremely irritated
- have less energy than normal, move slowly, or appear lethargic overall
- exhibit less interest in their looks as normal or fail to maintain basic hygiene, such as showering and brushing their teeth
- having difficulty sleeping or sleeping a lot more than average
- less concerned with their regular hobbies and interests.
- forgetful more often, or have difficulty focusing or deciding on things
- eat more or less than usual
- talk about death or suicide
How to Help
These ten pointers might help you in becoming a source of support for a depressed friend.
Begin a conversation
Make it clear to your friend that you are there for them. You may begin the discussion by expressing your concerns and asking a particular question.
For example, you might say:
“It seems like you’ve been having a hard time lately. What’s on your mind?”
“The last few times we hung out, you seemed a little down. Is there anything going on you that you’d like to talk about?”
“You mentioned going through some hard times recently — how are you feeling about everything?”
Remember that your friend also might want to speak about their feelings, but they may not want advice.
Use active listening skills to interact with your friend:
Rather than thinking you understand what they mean, ask questions to learn more.
Validate their emotions. You might say, “That sounds really difficult. I’m sorry to hear that.”
Use your body language to express empathy and interest.
Because your friend may not want to discuss the first time you ask, it might be helpful to keep showing them you care.
Continue to ask open-ended questions (without being aggressive) and communicate your worry. When possible, try to hold talks in person. Try video call if you reside in different places.
Help them in seeking help
Your friend may be unaware that they are depressed, or they may be uncertain how to get help.
Even if they are aware that counselling might be beneficial, finding a therapist and scheduling an appointment can be overwhelming.
If your friend seems to be interested in counselling, offer to lend a hand in researching potential therapists. You may help your buddy in making a list of questions to ask prospective therapists and topics to discuss during their first session.
If they are having difficulty making that initial visit, encouraging and supporting them might be really beneficial.
Encourage them to continue with their treatment
On a terrible day, your friend may not want to leave the home. Depression may deplete one’s vitality and heighten one’s urge to withdraw oneself.
Encourage them to keep their treatment appointments if they say something like, “I think I’m going to cancel my therapy appointment,” encourage them to stick with it.
You might say, “Last week you said your session was really productive and you felt a lot better afterwards. What if today’s session helps, too?”
The same is relevant for medication. If a friend wishes to discontinue medication due to bad side effects, be compassionate but urge them to consult with their psychiatrist about switching to a different antidepressant or discontinuing medication altogether.
Stopping antidepressants abruptly without the guidance of a medical expert might have dangerous repercussions. Typically, consulting with a healthcare practitioner before discontinuing medicine may help to avoid health issues.
Take good care of yourself
When you care about someone who is depressed, it’s tempting to drop everything to be there for them and support them. It’s not bad to want to assist a friend, but it’s equally necessary to look for yourself.
You’ll have very little time for yourself if you devote all of your attention to helping your friend. And if you’re exhausted or irritated, you won’t be able to aid your friend.
Set your limits
Setting limits may be helpful. For example, you may tell a friend that you’re available to chat once you get home from work, but not before.
If you’re afraid that they won’t be able to contact you, volunteer to help them in developing a backup plan if they need you during your workday. This might include locating a helpline they can contact or devising a code word they can text you if they are in a crisis.
Instead of attempting to help every day, you may volunteer to stop by every other day or deliver a dinner twice a week. Involving other friends may aid in the formation of a larger support network.
Spending a lot of time with a loved one who is depressed may be emotionally draining. Know your boundaries when it comes to uncomfortable emotions, and make time to recharge.
If you need to notify a friend that you will be unavailable for a time, you may say something like, “I can’t talk until X time. Can I check in with you then?”
Discover depression on your own
Picture having to teach each individual in your life about a mental or physical health problem you’re dealing with – explaining it again and over. Doesn’t it seem exhausting?
You may chat to your friend about particular symptoms or how they’re feeling, but don’t expect them to tell you about depression in general.
Do your own research on the symptoms, causes, diagnostic criteria, and therapies.
While everyone experiences sadness differently, having a broad understanding of the symptoms and terminology may help you have more in-depth talks with your friend.
Offer to help with day-to-day duties
Day-to-day duties might be daunting for those suffering from depression. Laundry, food shopping, and bill paying may all build up, making it difficult to know where to begin.
Your friend will appreciate your offer of support, but they may not be able to express precisely what they need.
Instead of asking, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” consider saying, “What do you most need help with today?”
If you see their refrigerator is empty, say something like, “Can I take you grocery shopping, or pick up what you need if you write me a list?” or “Let’s go get some groceries and cook dinner together.”
If your friend is behind on dishes, laundry, or other housework, offer to come over, put on some music, and work on a particular job together. Simply having someone to talk to might make the task seem less burdensome.
Extend estranged invitations
People who are depressed may have difficulty reaching out to friends and creating or maintaining plans. However, cancelling plans might lead to feelings of guilt.
A trend of cancelled arrangements may result in fewer invites, increasing isolation. These emotions may amplify depression.
You may comfort your friend by continuing to offer invites to events even if you know they won’t accept. Tell them you understand if they can’t keep plans while they’re going through a hard patch and that there’s no need to hang out with them until they’re ready.
Just let them know you’re pleased to visit them anytime they want.
Depression normally improves with therapy, but it may be a lengthy and painstaking task including some trial and error. They may have to try many different counselling techniques or drugs before finding one that relieves their symptoms.
Even when medication is effective, depression does not always go away. Your buddy may still have symptoms from time to time.
Meanwhile, they’ll most likely have some good days and some terrible days. Avoid believing that a good day indicates they’re “cured," and try not to get discouraged if a string of poor days makes it seem as if your friend will never better.
There is no set timetable for healing from depression. Expecting your friend to revert to their old selves after a few weeks of treatment will not benefit either of you.
Keep in contact
Allowing your friend to know you still care about them while they battle through their depression might be helpful.
Even if you aren’t able to spend a lot of time with them on a daily basis, check in with a text, phone call, or brief visit on a regular basis. Even a brief text message stating “I’ve been thinking of you and I care about you” can help.
People suffering from depression may become more reclusive and avoid reaching out, so you may find yourself working more to keep the relationship going. However, being a good, supporting presence in your friend’s life may make all the difference, even if they can’t communicate it to you right now.
Be aware of the many forms of depression
Depression is often associated with sadness or a negative mood, but it also includes other, less well-known symptoms.
Many individuals, for example, are unaware that depression might include:
- anger and irritability
- confusion, difficulties with memory, or difficulty focusing
- excessive fatigue or sleep concerns
- physical symptoms such as stomach distress, frequent headaches, or back and other muscle pain
Your friend may appear to be in a bad mood or fatigued most of the time. Try to remember that what they’re experiencing is still part of depression, even if it doesn’t fall into the usual definitions of depression.
Even if you don’t know what to say to make them feel better, just expressing “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. I’m here to help if there’s anything I can do” may help.
What To Avoid
Taking everything personally
It is not your fault, nor is it their fault, that your friend is depressed.
If they appear to lash out at you in anger or irritation, continually cancelling plans (or fail to follow up), or don’t want to do much of anything, try not to let it bother you.
You may need a break from your friend at some time. It’s OK to take some time for yourself if you’re feeling emotionally fatigued, but avoid blaming your friend or saying anything that may add to their unpleasant sentiments.
Instead, try discussing your feelings with a therapist or another helpful individual.
Trying to fix them
Depression is a severe mental illness that needs expert care.
If you’ve never experienced depression, it might be difficult to comprehend how it feels. But it isn’t something that can be fixed with a few well-meaning statements like, “You should be grateful for the good things in your life” or “Just stop thinking about sad things.”
If you wouldn’t say anything to someone suffering from a bodily condition, such as diabetes or cancer, you shouldn’t say it to a friend suffering from depression.
You may inspire positivity (even if your friend does not react) by reminding them of things that make you happy about them, particularly if they appear to only have bad things to say.
Positive reinforcement might demonstrate to your friend that they are important to you.
Though some lifestyle changes may typically help ease symptoms of depression, making these alterations during a depressive episode can be difficult.
You may be able to help by providing advice, such as getting more exercise or eating a well-balanced diet. Even if it is great advice, your friend may not want to hear it right now.
It’s possible that your buddy would want to know what foods might aid with depression or how exercise can help reduce symptoms. However, until then, it may be best to adhere to empathetic listening and refrain from providing advice unless requested.
Invite them on a stroll or make a healthy dinner together to encourage good change.
Minimising or contrasting their previous experience
If your friend discusses their despair, you can reply something like, “I understand,” or “We’ve all been there.” However, if you’ve never struggled with depression, this could diminish your feelings.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or down. Sadness generally passes quickly, however, depression may remain for months or even years, affecting mood, relationships, job, education, and many other areas of life.
Comparing their problems to those of others, or saying things like, “But things could be so much worse,” generally doesn’t help.
Your friend’s suffering is what they are experiencing right now, and recognising that pain may be the most critical to them.
Say something like, “I can’t imagine how hard that is to deal with. I know I can’t make you feel better, but just remember you aren’t alone.”
Expressing a view on medicine
Medication can be extremely important for depression, but it does not work for everyone.
Some individuals are put off by its side effects and would rather address their depression with counselling or other therapies. Even if you believe your friend should take an antidepressant, keep in mind that medicine is a personal choice.
Similarly, if you don’t believe in medicine, avoid the issue while speaking with them. Medication may help some individuals get to the point where they can completely participate in treatment and begin taking measures toward recovery.
Finally, whether or not someone with depression takes medication is a highly personal choice that is best left to them and their healthcare expert.
When It Is Necessary To Interfere
Because depression increases a person’s risk of suicide or self-injury, it’s important to understand the warning signals.
Some symptoms that your friend is experiencing severe suicide thoughts are as follows:
- unpredictable mood or personality shifts
- discussing death or dying
- getting a weapon
- increasing usage of substances
- risky or unsafe behaviour
- getting rid of belongings or donating prized possessions
- expressing a sense of being stuck or desiring a way out
- shoving others away or claiming they want to be alone
- saying farewell with more emotion than normal
If you suspect a friend is contemplating suicide, encourage them to phone their therapist while you’re with them, or ask if you may call on their behalf.
Help During A Crisis
They may also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME" to 741741.
What if you’re not in the United States? The International Association for Suicide Prevention can connect you to local hotlines and other services.
You may also take your friend to the hospital’s emergency department. Stay with your friend if at all possible until they no longer feel suicidal. Be certain that they do not have access to any weapons or drugs.
If you’re worried about a friend, you may be frightened that revealing it to them may encourage suicide thoughts. However, talking about it is typically helpful.
Inquire whether your friend has seriously pondered suicide. They may want to speak to someone about it but are uncertain how to approach the sensitive subject.
Encourage them to discuss these views with their therapist if they haven’t previously. Offer to assist them in developing a safety plan to utilise if they believe they will act on such ideas.