Depression is a difficult condition to live with. It is also difficult when you don’t know how to help a friend that is depressed – or even a family member. Depressive symptoms can often mislead the person struggling with them, making them feel like things are far worse than they are or that they themselves are bad, worthless, unloved, or ignored.
How to Help a Friend that is Depressed
Contending with these feelings is difficult, and sometimes, depression can be a frustrating thing to deal with in a friendship. But if you stay patient, take care of yourself, and heed professional advice, you can continue to provide meaningful support to your loved one.
1. Support Their Treatment
It goes without saying that you should not undermine their treatment. Regardless of your personal beliefs or opinions, and regardless of what they’re doing to get better, don’t mock it or scoff at it. Maybe you are skeptical about talk therapy or don’t think that antidepressants work. Or maybe your friend started on herbal medication, such as St. John’s wort, and finds that it is effective for them.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a placebo or a real therapeutic effect. If it is helping your friend – and if they are feeling better – support them. And if it stops working, don’t rub their noses in it or play “I told you so.” Help them find another way.
2. Don’t Spread the Word
This is another no-brainer, but it needs to be said – don’t gossip. Aside from avoiding nasty rumors, it’s also important to keep quiet about your friend’s feelings, experiences, and well-being. That’s their business, and who they share that information with is their business as well.
If your friend feels ready to talk about their depression with others, it should be up to them who they tell and what they say, and what they leave out. If you’re who they confide in, then it’s doubly important that you don’t break that trust by saying something you shouldn’t have.
3. Offer Distractions
This is an important piece of advice. You should be there to listen to your friend and make sure that they know someone hears them and is there for them, especially outside of the family. But consider how you might be able to pull them out of a moment of rumination or circular thinking.
These are common in depression – negative thought patterns that start with a self-loathing or anxious thought and spiral into worse and worse assumptions and feelings, including things like “it doesn’t matter if I disappear” or “no one cares anyway.”
Providing an apt distraction is a good way to pull your friend away from these thoughts whenever they begin to develop. Stick to the things you used to have fun with – even if your friend struggles to enjoy their old hobbies, revisiting them with you from time to time might help them crack a smile or laugh at an old memory.
4. Learn More About Depression and Other Mood Disorders
There is plenty to learn. Depression comes in many different shapes and forms, and understanding which one your friend is struggling with can tell you a lot about what to expect and what they might feel like. In fact, it’s a great step in learning how to help a friend that is depressed.
Listening to stories or experiences of other people with similar diagnoses can give you the tools to further empathize with how your friend feels, or put yourself in their shoes when thinking about what to say or how to talk to them. In addition to major depressive disorder, other depressive disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- And more.
If you have more specific questions, you can always ask your friend to help explain.
5. You Don’t Need to Be There Always
This can be hard to hear for some people, but it’s not healthy for you or for your friend if you try to be there 24/7. This reliance on your help and continued care creates unhealthy expectations and can create a powerful and dangerous interdependent relationship.
Furthermore, while we should take care of those we love, it’s one step too far to try and dedicate yourself to someone’s care without equal consideration for your own well-being and mental health.
This is especially important if your friend is, in fact, your partner, girlfriend, or boyfriend. It’s easy to see yourself as the “provider” of emotional support and mental wellness, but don’t become their emotional crutch or provide them with affirmations at every turn in response to their self-loathing.
The goal of depression treatment is to reduce depressive symptoms and, in turn, help the individual strengthen their resilience against future episodes through stronger self-esteem and better stress management skills. These are difficult tasks that emphasize a person’s ability to take care of their own emotional needs. Your “care” can end up harming them if it goes too far.
6. Don’t Allow Threats
It must be said – if your friend or partner begins to threaten to hurt themselves if you leave or don’t do as they say, it’s time to draw a line and seek help, both for yourself and for them. If need be, distance yourself for your own safety.
Depression does not give anyone the right to threaten one another, and people who are depressed do not suddenly lose empathy for one another or lose sight of the concept of agency. Your friend might be worried about losing their loved ones, and they might doubt your love for them – or anyone else’s – but that does explain nor justify threatening self-harm and suicide.
It’s a very different matter altogether if your friend is talking about self-harm or suicide outside of the context of a threat or without the implication that they might “use” it.
Self-harm and suicidal ideation are common symptoms of depression, often culminating in a suicide attempt. Sometimes, there are no warning signs. If you’re worried about your loved one’s immediate safety, get help as soon as possible.
7. Seek Help
At the end of the day, if you don’t know what else to do, it is perfectly valid and completely encouraged to seek help – whether it’s the help of a teacher, a parent, a counselor, or a therapist.
This is especially important if you feel you aren’t equipped to deal with some of the questions and situations you find yourself in – such as struggling to talk a friend out of suicide, witnessing self-harm, or watching someone you love and care about do something reckless or senseless out of a need to feel.
You are not responsible for your friend, no matter how much you do or how much you care. And more importantly, you can never take their depression away from them. It isn’t in your power, nor is it in anyone else’s. Mental health is complicated, individual, and entirely unfair.
Teen Depression Treatment
Some people go through their entire lives feeling optimistic and ready, with barely a moment of self-doubt. And for some people, life itself feels like a non-starter, and it’s not something you can convince them of otherwise.
Get help. Convince your loved one to go seek help with you. Fight depression alongside them. But never feel responsible for their fight, or feel like it’s a fight you must win for them. Putting that pressure on yourself can backfire, especially if your friend’s mental health worsens over time.
Reach out to Visions Treatment Centers for more information about teen depression and depression treatment for adolescents.