Helping a Friend with Depression

Let’s say you have a friend who was once the life of the party, but now they’re more quiet or reserved. Maybe you once spoke to them daily, but now it’s hard to catch them on the phone or get a text back. Everyone has their bad days, but a prolonged period of abnormal behavior could be an indicator that something bigger is going on.

Just to put things into perspective, according to The World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting 300 million people. The National Institute of Mental Health reports seven percent of Americans experience depression in a year’s time. It’s more common than most probably realized. If you’re stumbling upon this article it’s possible you know this already and you’re looking for a way to help your friend.

Let’s get into it.

What Depression Can Look Like

The important thing to keep in mind is depression can present itself in a multitude of ways, and symptoms may vary. It could look like any of the following:

  • quick to anger and persistent irritability
  • confusion, memory problems, or difficulty focusing
  • tired all the time
  • physical symptoms such as frequent headaches or muscle pain

Your friend may tick every box listed, or none of the above. Depression looks different for everyone. It may feel disheartening if you feel like your friend’s regular bad moods or excessive fatigue is a sign of them pulling away, but try to keep their feelings in mind. In his 2017 TED Talk, comedian and storyteller, Bill Bernat, spoke about his clinical depression and said, “Depression doesn’t diminish a person’s desire to connect with other people, just their ability.”

Some Dos and Don’ts When Helping

You want to be sympathetic to what your friend is going through, but not invasive.

Do:

  • read up on the condition (you’re a step ahead!)
  • educate yourself on what depression can feel like
  • take their feelings seriously

Don’t:

  • take things personally
  • try to “fix” them
  • minimize or compare their experiences

Some Things To Keep in Mind

It’s awesome that you’re reaching out and trying to help your friend, but keep in mind that treating depression is never a quick fix. Try not to take their response personally if it’s less than grateful. They’re going through a lot. Instead of trying to fix them, just be there for them. Listen to them and their needs. Your support is the greatest thing you can offer.
It’s important to remember that just because your friend may currently be struggling with depression doesn’t automatically make them at risk for suicide. If, however, there is cause for alarm, then there are multiple sources at the disposal of both you and your friend.

What To Do When Extra Help is Needed

It’s possible your friend may reach a point when they need more help than you can give, and that’s okay. The important thing to remember is your friend needs help, and you can do that for them:

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-622-HELP (4357))
    • a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service also provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
  • Crisis Text Line at 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
  • Not in the United States? The Intentional Association for Suicide Prevention can link you to hotlines and other resources in your country.

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