Depression affects many people and some of us have friends already dealing with it. Even though we want to be there for them, we don’t always know what to do and say to support them. We are all different, and there is no universal way to support our depressed friend and that’s another challenge for us. However, the mere fact that you want to help your depressed friend is fantastic, and our suggestions may help you figure out the best way to approach and support them throughout this challenging phase of their life.
Be open and willing to listen
Remember that talking about depression or anxiety is never straightforward. The focus should be on your friend, so be willing to listen and ask the questions in order to open the talk.
You could begin with something like: ‘I’ve seen you behave differently in the last couple of weeks. Do you have issues to talk about? Could I be helpful in any way?’
Try to use open-ended questions, allowing your friend to feel safe, understood, and supported. ‘One of the common mistakes people make when trying to help a depressed friend is to offer solutions right from the start. But people with depression (or other mood disorders for that matter) need to know that they’re cared for and understood. They want to know that someone is listening, more than anything else,’ says Eloise Reese, a counsellor at the treatment centre for depression, the Holistic Sanctuary.
Try not to force the conversation and wait until your friend is willing to talk. Your friend should know that he/she can always rely on your support. Even if you think you have a solution to their problems, you help them more by listening and not by providing answers.
Find out about your friend’s struggle
If you think that one of your friends is dealing with depression or anxiety, you should do due diligence and learn more about mental health and mood disorders. People dealing with depression or anxiety are slowly taking distance from their regular lives and some signs can be noticeable. Depression isn’t a bad mood that lasts a couple of days; it doesn’t happen overnight, and people often hide their symptoms as the social stigma associated with mental health conditions is still very much embedded in our society.
Symptoms of depression will vary from one person to another, but you may still identify some of the most common signs. People with depression tend to:
- Change their eating habits, eating more/less than usual
- Oversleep or not sleep enough
- Miss their regular responsibilities and tasks from home, job, or school
- Cry easily or are cranky very often
- Turn to alcohol or drugs for dealing with regular life
- Seem pessimistic and hopeless, with less energy
- Talk about how empty, worthless, or tired they feel all the time
- Stop going out or cancel at the last moment
It’s always a serious matter
Watching some comedy movies or reading a motivational book isn’t going to make depression go away. It takes a lot of personal effort to overcome depression, so you should never undermine your friend’s problem.
Acknowledging your friend’s depression will be more valuable than you think. ‘Don’t make your friend feel like a patient, as depressed people tend to feel ashamed of their condition, so they may close and refuse conversation after all. Keep in mind that depression comes from deep emotional trauma or other traumatic events, and you can help your friend by patiently supporting their efforts to have professional treatment,’ highlights Eloyse Reese.
Ask your friend if you can’t figure out which is the best method to provide support. Some may want to hang out without necessarily talking about their depression. Others will talk about their issues. As long as you’re compassionate and non-judgemental, communication could be beneficial for your friend.
Don’t abandon your depressed friend, no matter what
When your friend struggles with depression, he/she may not be in the mood to even get up from their bed. Even if your friend tends to skip meetings, you should encourage them to address their responsibilities.
No matter if your friend is looking for professional help, they should know that you’re there for them, providing support without judgement. If the situation aggravates and you fear for your friend’s life, you shouldn’t hesitate, and get emergency health service right away.
Sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed by the whole situation, and it’s perfectly acceptable to look for professional help for better management. We all make mistakes, and we all have our limitations.
Help your friend get professional treatment
Even if your friend could be dealing with depression for some time, he/she may not be aware of the professional treatment solutions available out there. They could also hesitate about getting professional help; misconceptions about professional help for depression and mental health conditions are widespread.
You may help your friend by supporting them to talk to a professional about their depression. Make yourself available for your friend, and don’t hesitate to join them at the treatment centre if they ask you to be there. Plan and gather several solutions, together with the financial costs, to give your friend options to choose from.
Some people need to take baby steps to get treatment and may not be ready for face-to-face meetings at first. Look for treatment centres that provide hotlines and online chat-based helplines. Just because it doesn’t look essential for you, doesn’t mean it cannot help or guide your friend. Once your friend sees that compassionate professional help is available, they can gather the strength to enrol in a programme for depression.
One last thing
Having someone close to you dealing with depression can be challenging and emotionally draining. It’s wise to address your mental health if you think you cannot deal with it on your own. We cannot be there for our friends if we don’t have enough emotional and mental energy. Talk to your other friends about it and don’t hesitate to reach for professional help if you feel like it’s too much for you to handle.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.