Categories: Self Improvement

How to Help a Depressed Friend (11+ Tips and Professional Help)

Depression is an intense reality for those who are affected by it. Some people endure overwhelming experiences that send them spiraling down an emotional slump, such as loss of a loved one, termination from a job, a bad breakup, or even financial difficulties.

There are also those who are consumed by depression for no discernible reason. They might have everything good going for them, yet they feel miserable without knowing why.

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Practical tips to help your friend suffering from depression

Caring for a Friend Suffering from Depression

Watching a loved one struggle through depression can be a painful experience, especially if you find yourself unable to help in any meaningful way.

A lot of misinformed or underinformed people end up doing more damage than good in their attempt to reach out to struggling individuals. Therefore, the first step towards helping is to inform yourself about this often-misrepresented clinical disorder.

Familiarize yourself with the causes, symptoms, and ramifications of depression to get a better understanding of what your friend might be going through.

It is normal to feel great concern for a loved one when they are depressed. What matters is that you provide them the support and acceptance they need, without crowding their space.

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This article will highlight some specific ways you can help a depressed friend.

1. Get immediate help if they are suicidal.

The absolute most important thing you can do if your friend is suicidal is to seek immediate help. Take them seriously every time and call 911!  Suicide is real, and your friend needs help.

Seek help if they have suicidal thoughts

If your friend makes suicidal comments, gestures, or attempts, get immediate help and do not leave them alone.

When people are suicidal, their judgment may be impaired. They may try to talk you out of getting emergency care. It is possible that they may even be upset towards you for calling 911. If this is the case, remember, it is better to have an upset friend then a deceased one.

2. Listen to your instinct.

Our instincts have a special way of guiding us. You must have confidence that your instincts are trustworthy. If something does not sit right with you about your friend’s recent behaviors, then trust it and do something about it.

3. Check the severity of symptoms.

Some things to look out for in a depressed friend that would warrant concern of more severe symptoms include diminished interest or pleasure in activities, a depressed mood for most of the day, significant weight gain or loss, etc.,

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Other symptoms include insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation, fatigue, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, a suicide attempt, and a specific plan for committing suicide.

These more severe forms of depression are seen in some people who meet the criteria for grave depressive disorders such as major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, depression stemming from another medical condition, or substance/medication-induced depressive disorder.

4. Encourage your friend to make an appointment to see a qualified professional.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, family physicians, and even nurse practitioners can help your friend. This is important for several reasons.

Consider a professional to help a depressed friend

Your friend’s depression could be due to a serious medical condition that has been undetected and should be ruled out.

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Of course, the depression could be due to a mental health issue as well, which the qualified professional should be able to identify and refer your friend to a qualified therapist accordingly.

5. Encourage your friend to seek help in the form of therapy.

All too often, people with depression fail to reach out because of a misguided sense of embarrassment or stigma about their mental state. They internalize their angst and hope to overcome it by sheer willpower.

However, depression is a heavy load to carry for even the most headstrong individuals.

To help your depressed friend and keep them from reaching their breaking point, it’s best to enlist the expertise of a therapist. Research good therapists in your friend’s area. Look for professionals who hold a master’s degree or doctorate in a clinical or counseling field.

These individuals are highly trained to help people with their therapeutic needs. There are various therapies that help with depression. Read reviews of the therapists, look at their credentials, and check out what type of therapy they provide.

6. Do not give up when trying to get them to see a doctor and/or therapist.

When people are depressed, they may not have the mental energy to seek help. It may feel easier for them not to do anything and “hope” the negative feelings go away.

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People who have been in the throes of depression for a long time often become desensitized to their own suffering. Your friend may need you to be assertive and play an active role in making appointments, driving them to appointments, and following up any medication orders.

7. Watch what you say.

Despite your good intentions, you might end up saying something that inadvertently upsets your friend. It’s better to say nothing at all than saying something which might come across as patronizing.

This is especially important when you are addressing depressed people who tend to undervalue their self-worth. Treating them as rescue projects will only feed such negative feelings.

Similarly, you cannot force your well-meaning plans onto them. Dominating your friend by using remarks such as “pull yourself together” or “get over it” is a self-defeating strategy that only discourages depressed individuals from opening up about their feelings.

Many people make the mistake of assuming responsibility for their friend’s happiness and get frustrated if they do not respond to their attempts. Lecturing your friend about what they should and should not do or arguing with them when they fail to comply is extremely counterproductive.

Try not to lose your patience at your friend’s passivity and engage in destructive criticism. The aim is to be there for them without making them feel more inadequate.

8. Listen to them.

Your friend needs someone to actively listen. Listening does not mean giving advice. It means just that, listen. Hear the words they are saying and empathize with them. They may not want you to fix their problems; they just want to be heard.

Hear your friend out to help them cope with depression

Active listening means concentrating on what they are saying, reflecting back what they are saying, and validating them. Unlike the movies, you are not expected to show your friend the light through epiphanic words of wisdom.

If you have nothing substantial to add or feel like you are at a loss for words, sit in silence and use nonverbal cues to communicate support.

9. Learn how to properly validate a friend.

You can find valuable information on how to validate others in the work of Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). In order to validate someone, you must be present mindfully and avoid judging the person.

You should be sincere and genuine while reflecting back to them. Validation does not mean that you agree with them or even like what they are saying. You are not giving advice when you are validating.

Instead, you will say something along the lines of “It’s no wonder you feel the way you do.” You can also say, “Anyone else would probably feel the same way.”

You must remember not to say, “I'm sorry you feel that way,” because then you are communicating that what they are feeling is wrong or bad, which is judgmental. Instead, sit with the emotion and say, “It is ok to feel that way.”

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10. Encourage a healthy lifestyle.

People who are depressed tend to take poor care of themselves. Therefore, you may have to help them by planning and making healthy meals for them.

You could also become a workout buddy with them and hold each other accountable. You can help your friend get in touch with a nutritionist or personal trainer if need be.

A healthy body helps our brain function as it is supposed to. Various neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and norepinephrine are associated with depression.

The functioning and delivery of these vital neurotransmitters will be enhanced when the body is healthy. Also, it is important to help your friend maintain good hygiene as their immune system may be worn down from the depression.

11. Get them out of the house.

People with depression tend to be more reclusive than others. They prefer spending time by themselves at home, rather than venturing out.

They are crippled by their inability to connect with others at an emotional level, primarily because they feel out of place at most gatherings and feel ashamed to express their true feelings.

Being alone with your thoughts for prolonged periods can be too claustrophobic, more so if you are fighting depression. Your friend may not be open to attending large gatherings or meeting new people, but you can do your part in trying to get them out of the house now and then.

Don’t nudge them into doing anything that they are not comfortable with, but keep suggesting fun things to do with their interests in mind.

Try to get them on board for outdoor activities such as going out for a movie or play, eating out, exploring a museum, going to a festival, engaging in a shopping spree, having a spa day, etc.

12. Plan something for them to look forward to.

People who are depressed generally live in the moment with their negative thinking. They often do not think of the future, especially if they are prone to suicidal thoughts.

Planning a future trip gives them something to look forward to, which can brighten their mood.

Plan something that excites them

Make it something that they will enjoy and involve them in the planning. This can be something next month or even next year. However, if they are having more severe symptoms, it would be a good idea to plan it sooner because they are less likely to be future oriented.

13. Let them try something new.

For someone who has lived with depression for a long time, it becomes very hard to break out from the misery-ridden rut. They become so accustomed to their suffering that any kind of change in routine seems terrifying.

Depression causes a lack of motivation or interest in activities. Therefore, doing something that they have never done before could spark a new interest, which may turn into a hobby.

Gaining a new hobby can give them a different perspective on their life.

14. Build their confidence with honesty.

To help a depressed friend, tell them how much they mean to you. Remind them of their accomplishments, good qualities, and things about them that make them special. You can also ask other people who know them to write or say good things about them.

15. Change their perspective.

Humans have the unique ability to feel compassion for others. When we help others, we tend to feel better about ourselves. Tap this facet of your friend’s psyche to help them acquire a more positive outlook.

To that end, get you and your friend enrolled in various charitable groups that aim to help others. Volunteer your services to help out at a homeless shelter, feed the needy, and take care of disadvantaged mothers and their children.

Getting your friend acquainted with the struggles of others will open them up to the bigger picture. Your friend will hopefully change their perspective on their own problems by gaining a sense of what others are going through.

The hope is that your friend will realize that they are still more fortunate than many others, and that should work as an impetus to keep moving forward.

16. Attend to your personal needs.

Don’t forget about your own mental well-being in the struggle to look after your friend. Don’t spread yourself too thin by taking up more responsibility than you can handle, as this will help no one.

Don't forget to take care of yourself before helping a friend in need

Instead, set clear boundaries with regard to what you are willing to do and not do.

Don’t cancel your own social engagements at the behest of your friend just because they might not be up for it. You cannot afford to put your own life on hold and give up on the things that you enjoy.

To reiterate, your job is not to fix your friend’s problem. That responsibility lies with them. The most you can do is to make the journey a little easier by providing unconditional support and acceptance.

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Published by
Angela Webb (Licensed Psychologist)

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