This question actually comes up a lot. The number of cases of clinical depression are increasing each year among citizens according to ScienceDaily, which is why it is imperative for us to know how to help a friend with depression.
I am going to discuss here:
- Signs of depression you should look out for
- Do’s and Don’ts when helping a friend with depression
- Self-care for yourself when helping a friend with depression
Signs that your friend may have depression
It may be difficult to assess if your friend or family member has depression. First of all, they may have it and have no plans of ever discussing their mental illness. In our society, there seems to be a stigma revolving around mental illness. People seem to believe that you are just sad for a certain time and that you just need to snap out of it as it is not really an illness. Well, those people are majorly wrong! Depression is a medical illness. It should be treated the same as any physical illness: with care, help, and attention.
Because of this, it is difficult for those with depression and other mental disorders to admit their illness and even more difficult to open up about it. There are countless cases each year where men and women become clinically depressed and yet do not seek proper attention. We need to fix this. How will the person get better if there is not help or care coming their way?
Signs to look out for:
- The person has no motivation or dedication to do anything (school, exercise, socialize, hobbies etc.)
- The person has lost their appetite.
- The person’s sleep schedule fluctuates and is unhealthy.
- The person is often complaining about life.
- Thoughts or words like “life is unfair” “what is the point?” “I am done with everything” “nothing matters anymore” “I don’t care to live”.
- The person is isolating themselves from family and friends – they might prefer to always be alone or constantly stay in one place (ie. their bedroom).
- The person is becoming anti-social and likely hating social situations.
- The person has a dislike of going out.
- The person generally feels lost and out of it sometimes.
- The person has turned to drugs or alcohol more often.
- The person has a negative out-look on life and finds it hard to think or act positively.
- The person generally doesn’t care about anything anymore.
- The person maybe experiencing unusual headaches.
- The person may have lashed out in anger recently.
- The person has mentioned suicide (implicitly or explicitly).
There are more signs to look out for if someone may be depressed but I believe these are the main ones to look out for. It is important to realize that this person is in a very fragile state and needs proper attention. We need to understand that depression is a very serious condition.
Another thing to realize is that there is not a set cause of depression. This mental illness affects everyone from different gender, sexuality, race, economic standpoint, and age. There are multiple factors that vary from person to person. Depression can stem from numerous causes including biology (genetics), health (hormones, other illness, stress), brain chemistry, and environment.
There are actions we can take to help our friends and loved-ones with depression. We have their best interest at heart and it is important for them to realize this. That being said, there also things you do not want to say or do when trying to help someone with depression. It may be difficult to talk to someone with depression. You may not know what to say, how to start, how to be supportive in fear of possibly being insulting, rude, or ignorant. This is okay. If you are unsure how to be supportive, then just being a compassionate listener is one of the best things you can do. That helps. Listening is key.
- Do not try to just fix someone’s depression. Do not believe they can easily be cured. Depression is in the hands of the person and what we can do is offer help. You are not to blame for their depression.
- Do not lie to someone else about someone’s depression. Do not make excuses for this person. Talk positively towards others and do not promote the stigma. This may prevent the person from seeking proper treatment.
- Do not interrupt this person. Let them speak. This is their time when you are talking to them. Be all ears and offer your respectful, calm insight when possible.
- Do not say words like “Be tough and get over it.” or “Just think positively.” or “Just snap out of it.”
- Do not overwhelm this person to the point where you may find yourself in an argument because you have tried offering heavy support.
- Do not get frustrated with this person if they have a lack of positivity or never want to do anything.
- Do not push for clinical support (therapist, medication) if this person is clearly not ready.
- Do not act like you know the exact cure. Yes, depression is curable but there are many steps one must take. Some remedies may work for others while some remedies may not work.
- Do not infer why or how your friend/family member is depressed.
- Do not be negative and tell them how their depression is affecting you. This will only make the situation a lot worse.
- Do not drag them into situations that you may think will help. (Going out, socializing, mingling)
- Have a warm, compassionate relationship with this person free from any hostility or negativity.
- Listen, listen, listen.
- Ask simple questions like, “When did you start to feel like this?” “Did something happen that might have triggered it?” “How can I offer you support?” “What do you think is the best way to approach or help beat your depression?”
- Offer words of encouragement and hope. Tell them that depression is extremely common and it is okay not to be okay.
- Let them know you are always there when they need someone.
- Tell them you care and want to help. Let them know their life means everything to you.
- Let them know you love them and want to see them be happy and successful.
- Learn the symptoms and causes of depression.
- Be open and be open-minded.
- Ask them how they feel and to describe it.
- Take them seriously as you would with someone who has cancer or another physical illness.
- Inform them about possible support groups but only when they are ready. Support groups such as counseling. If they are not ready to open up face to face, then inform them about online services such as forums, email, or other online counseling services.
- If the situation is bad and you do not know what to do or how they will take it if you encourage them to see a doctor, then again, let them know you are always available to talk. You can work together and when they are ready to take the next step, let them know it is always open.
- Discuss simple steps. Eating healthy, exercising, natural supplements, new hobbies, a calm vacation, meditation, yoga etc. Look at my activities and advice/tips for more ideas.
- Be close to them. They may always reject offers of going out or doing something fun, but invite them anyways. Let them know they are always welcomed.
- Inform this person that help is always out there. Countless help. The world and society is changing – having a better, positive outlook on mental illness. We have their best interest at heart.
Overall, depression is a widely varying disorder and may affect everyone differently depending on their situation and what type they may have considering there are nine different types of depression. It sometimes may be a hit or miss, on-days and off-days, or cases where people are majorly depressed (MDD). Be there to listen and always be a compassionate and supportive friend to those with depression.
Trying to be supportive or offering help to those with depression may be emotionally and physically draining. That is okay. Those who try to help their loved ones with cancer or another physical illness fall into the same boat. You are not to blame for anyone else’s illness. Know that. It is in their hands.
You may find yourself frustrated, upset, or exhausted when trying to help. Please do not let these self-feelings become aware to those with the mental illness. However, it is extremely important for you to take appropriate measures for your own health when trying to support someone with a mental illness.
- Know your limits. If you feel emotionally drained, take a break. Look at your own stress levels and cope with them. Then, when the time is right, offer your support again.
- Make time for yourself. Relax. Do the things you like. Do not use all of your own energy and time trying to help this person. Still focus on you. Do not let helping this person affect your life in a negative way. Keep up your daily routine.
- Set your own boundaries. If you are uncomfortable doing something in the means of support, then don’t do it. Find another way or another solution. It is important to not cross their line when trying to help but also not crossing your own line.
- If you find your own support is becoming overwhelming to your own health, then find other support. Discuss with others who are trustworthy how you may help if you are overwhelmed or confused. Do not let the person that has depression know you are talking to someone else for ways to help them. Make sure it is confidential.
- Love yourself, love them. You are truly trying your best. Support is one of the best things that someone can offer to one dealing with a mental illness. You are doing great, know that!
I hope this information has helped. Again, depression is a disease of wilderness. It works differently and varies from person to person. I am extremely grateful mental illness is receiving more positive attention in today’s society as it should. I have had years experience with both depression and anxiety and live to help those with similar struggles. Let’s end the stigma together and offer our support to those in need.
If you have any other input (do’s, don’ts, advice, activities etc.) please I would love to hear them.
If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or even want to connect, leave me a comment below.