How to Help a Friend with Depression
Medically reviewed by Danielle Wade, LCSW — By Hilary I. Lebow
We hate to see them struggle and we know how it feels to have our world fall apart, in one way or another. But because depression is so complex, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start.
It can get even more tricky when someone we care about is showing signs of serious distress, and we’re not sure how to navigate a crisis. We may be afraid to do something wrong or somehow make things even worse.
Take heart. You are not alone, and there are many ways you can help. It’s possible not only to support someone during a difficult time, but to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too.
This article will explain common symptoms of depression, warning signs, and how to be there for someone dealing with depression, all while keeping your own mental health in check.
Spotting the signs of depression
At least 4.7%Trusted Source of U.S. adults live with depression, according to 2019 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, according to a 2021 Mental Health America report, the number of people seeking mental health support skyrocketed amid the global pandemic.
It’s important to know upfront that depression is a unique experience for each individual. Here are some symptoms of depression you might recognize in your loved one:
- feeling sadness or low spirits
- looking fatigued or appearing “shut down”
- sleeping more, or less, than normal
- having fluctuations in appetite
- experiencing weight fluctuations
- expressing guilt, shame, helplessness, or hopelessness
- being pessimistic about the future
- skipping activities or quality time together
- being more reclusive or less communicative
- having difficulty focusing in conversation or seeming distracted
- having trouble remembering things
- being quicker to anger or more irritable than usual
- losing interest in hobbies or activities
- discussing death or self-harm
- experiencing physical symptoms, like headaches or an upset stomach
As you can see, there’s a lot going on there. And there’s no one cause of depression — it could stem from a combination of many factors, like genetic predisposition, personal history, trauma, substance use, major life changes, work stress, family problems, or even an underlying health concern.
In the next sections, we’ll take a look at some key ways you can support a loved one who’s dealing with depression
1. Listen to them
Depression can be an isolating experience for some. One of the best things you can do is to let someone know they’re not alone and be open to what they want to share.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Simply listen to what they’re going through. Do not try to fix their problems, give unsolicited advice, or judge their feelings. It’s not something they can just “get over” or “snap out of.” If they could, they would’ve done it already.
If you can relate, share your own experience and what you learned from it. Many people just want to be understood and know that someone cares.
2. Help them find support
When someone with depression decides to seek help, it can be an overwhelming experience. There are doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, helplines, forums, and so much more. Sometimes it’s easier to just close the laptop and push it off for another day.
You can help ease the burden by offering to look up support. Once your loved one is actively in treatment, encourage them to keep going. If they talk about wanting to quit, or stop taking medications, suggest that they discuss it with a mental health professional first. You might want to tell them how much of a positive difference you’ve seen in them already.
3. Offer to help with tasks
For those who live with depression, even small tasks, like brushing teeth or cleaning up the kitchen, may drain emotional bandwidth. For this reason, offering to help with something seemingly small can make a huge difference in someone’s day.
If you have capacity, offer to start a load of laundry, walk the dog, watch the kids for a couple of hours, or drive them to the store.
4. Stay in touch
One symptom that’s common with depression is a reduced ability to get things done, which means things like text messages, e-mails, or social invitations can pile up.
On top of that, depression can cause people to feel guilt or shame about not being able to “get it together.” These feelings could make someone less likely to reach out to you for help.
For now, be the one to extend an invitation or two; it will come back around eventually. Let your loved one know that you’re thinking of them and would love to spend time together, if and when they feel up for it.
5. Do positive activities together
Research has shown that several activities can improve mood, including yoga, swimming, getting out in nature, or making art. Suggest one of these activities to do together, if your loved one feels up for it.