Do you have a friend who has confided in you about their depression? Or maybe they haven’t opened up to you. Instead, they’re beginning to withdraw, spending less time socializing or pursuing their interests and more time alone in their rooms. When you do spend time with them, maybe you’ve noticed they’re yawning more, eating more or less than before, or they just seem to have a dark cloud hanging over them no matter the environment. If someone in your life is showing these signs, there’s a chance they could be depressed.
Want to know how to help them? Stick around to learn the 12 Steps for Helping Someone With Depression.
So let’s get into it.
1. Reach out to them first.
If you begin to notice your friend displaying signs of depression, it might be tempting to brush it under the rug or wait for them to bring their depression up first.
It’s easy to tell yourself that once they’re ready to talk about their depression, they’ll reach out, but often the exact opposite happens. As someone’s depression worsens they tend to withdraw further into isolation, making it harder for them to reach out for support.
Although bringing up someone else’s mental health is always uncomfortable and challenging, sometimes even requiring multiple attempts before they open up, it’s crucial. Although you may worry it’ll insult them, and they may actually be offended initially, but it is still essential and in the long run they will appreciate it.
Here are some good ways to open the conversation.
“I’ve been feeling a little worried about you lately, is everything okay?”
“You’ve been acting differently lately and have been wondering how you’re doing.”
“I’m just checking in because you’ve seemed a little down lately, is there anything you need to talk about?”
Avoid scrutinizing their different behavior or accuse them of being depressed, simply open up the conversation to talk. If they don’t open up but their behavior stays the same or worsens, try again.
2. Ask questions about their feelings and experience with depression.
Rather than making assumptions about their depression, ask them questions to keep the conversation going. Opening up about depression is difficult but it’s much easier when people ask prompting questions. It’ll also help you gain an understanding of where they’re at in their depression.
Ask questions like:
“Has something happened that’s made you begin feeling this way?”
“How long have you been feeling like this?”
“Have you thought about getting help?”
“How does it feel for you?”
“What can I do to support you?”
It’s better to ask outright rather than guess how they’re feeling or what steps they’re taking to fight it. It’ll also feel great for them, being able to talk about their depression.
3. Let them know they aren’t alone and that they have your support.
Depression can make people feel lonely and isolated even if they’re people who are often surrounded by others.
Be sure to let them know that they aren’t alone. Tell them that the next time they’re in a spell of depression that you’re available to listen and follow through. Seeing that they can rely on you will show them that they aren’t alone in their fight.
4. Don’t minimize their depression.
This is very important as often people fear being honest about their depression, worried that they won’t be taken seriously.
It doesn’t matter how you perceive their depression. Their experience with their depression is their reality and that is what is important.
Avoid phrases like, “It’s all in your head”, “Get over it”, “It could be worse.”
All minimizing phrases do is make the depressed individual feel ashamed and guilt about their symptoms, making it more likely they’ll withdraw further.
5. Avoid giving advice, especially if it’s unsolicited, and making comparisons.
Another thing to avoid is making comparisons or giving unsolicited advice.
Although it might be well-intentioned, telling your depressed friend about your aunt who had it much worse but still recovered from depression doesn’t create hope for them. It usually just creates more shame and guilt, that they’re not recovering properly, or it might make them feel you don’t understand them.
Avoiding unsolicited advice is also an important tip when talking to someone with depression. Advice should be left to the professionals, your job should be offering support.
Examples of advice to avoid are:
“Have you tried cutting out sugar or alcohol?”
“Maybe you should try going out for walks more.”
“Just distract yourself, watch a movie, or get into a hobby.”
Even if it is good advice, there is no easy fix for depression. If they’re opening about their depression, they’re likely not looking for advice, rather someone to listen.
6. When they’re talking about their depression, don’t feel the need to fill awkward silences. Let them talk.
Even if there are lulls in the conversation or you feel like a conversation may get uncomfortable for you or them, let them talk.
When there are silences, it might feel more natural to fill the silence with our own voice. But sometimes it’s better to stay silent and see if they continue talking.
If you feel they’re closing off because of your discomfort, let them know they can keep talking as long as they want. Verbalizing emotions feels good, and even if you don’t know what to say, being a sounding board for them helps a lot.
Depression is often awkward and uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s important to not censor their story.
7. Encourage them to get professional help.
This is the only advice that should be given, encouraging them to see a professional about their depression.
Some people are nervous to start off seeing a therapist, especially if they’ve never been to one before. If that’s the case, suggest that they see their general physician instead.
A general physician can rule out any physical health problems that could be impacting their depression. From there, the doctor can refer them to a psychiatrist. Often people find this method easier, as finding a therapist themselves can feel daunting.
8. Offer to help find them a therapist, accompany them for their first appointment, or any other areas they need more support in.
If your friend is nervous about seeing a therapist, offer to help them find one or to wait in the waiting room during their first appointment. Seeing that you want to actively support them will help them feel less alone and it’ll encourage them to continue along their path to recovery. If they have support, it’ll seem less scary.
Ask them how you should support them rather than making assumptions. They might suggest things you’ve never thought of or they might strongly oppose your method of support. It’s better to ask first.
9. Suggest fun, healthy activities.
Instead of advising them to stay distracted, keep them distracted! Invite them out for fun and healthy activities that avoid harmful behaviors, like drinking alcohol.
Suggest a fun movie night with healthy treats or a walk around the neighborhood. It’ll go a long way in helping their depression!
10. Have realistic expectations.
It’s important to have realistic expectations when supporting someone through any recovery process. Depression isn’t ever cured overnight and sometimes it’ll take much longer than you expect. It might even seem like they’re on the right track and making great strides, then they might relapse back into their depressive state.
It might be frustrating for you but it’s important to be patient and continue to support them, even if they’re not recovering the way you expected.
A good way to have realistic expectations is to research depression. Being educated on the topic will help you have a better idea of what the recovery process may look like. But no size fits all and there will be plenty of ups and downs along the road. They’ll appreciate you standing by their side during it.
11. Set personal boundaries.
While it’s good to support them throughout their battle with depression, you must also take care of yourself.
Even if you wish you could, you’ll never be able to fix their depression yourself and you cannot be there for them every second of the day.
It’s important to speak up for yourself even though they’re feeling depressed. You may feel like you must filter yourself, in fear of hurting them, but this will only build resentment. If you feel they’re acting disrespectfully or taking advantage of you, be honest with them.
The only way to successfully help someone is to also take care of yourself. If you don’t set personal boundaries, there’s a chance you’ll burn out and no longer be able to support them.
12. Don’t take things personally.
While it’s important to set firm personal boundaries and not take abuse from someone even if they’re depressed, it’s equally important not to take things personally.
Depression can cause irritability or other symptoms that might impair their social skills. These symptoms can sometimes make the depressed individual appear like they don’t care about you, but that’s rarely the case.
If your friend backs out of plans last minute, it’s easy to convince yourself they don’t want to spend time with you. This is usually just a side effect of the social withdrawal that comes with depression.
Sometimes they might be irritable or even lash out aggressively. It might be hurtful and it is hard to not feel rejected or disrespected, but try not to take it personally. If it’s not a regular occurrence, it’s likely just the depression getting the best of them. Instead of getting upset, let them know you’re there for them whenever they’re ready.
We hope you liked these 12 tips for helping someone with depression!