Depression is a condition that affects over three million Americans a year. Personally, it's something I've dealt with my whole life, and while I've been fortunate enough to have access to quality professional care, it hasn't always been easy, and it's definitely taken some work -- the kind of work that ends up being a life-long process. Chances are, if you don't deal with depression yourself, you probably know someone who does. It can be painful to see someone you really care about go through such a difficult time, and it can also be rather paralyzing and confusing to try and be a source of support for them. Remember, there is nothing you can do to "cure" someone with depression. But you can learn how to talk to a friend with depression, and you can find ways to be a source of strength and comfort during a dark time.
It's important to remember, too, that depression can look and feel different on pretty much every person who deals with it. Some of the more common symptoms can include feeling despondent and sad, a lack of interest in life or usual activities, trouble focusing, feelings of isolation, and changes in sleep, appetite, or attitude.
Elite Daily had a chance to speak with a few different professionals to help guide you if you're looking to support a friend who may be battling depression. They're here to offer some stellar pieces of advice, but above all, to remind you that you are never, ever alone in this struggle.
1. Don't Assume Anything About What Your Friend Is Feeling
According to Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, if you notice your friend might be experiencing depression, don't assume anything about their situation.
In fact, you really don't have to straight-up ask if they're depressed. Take it slow, and be aware that they might not be ready to answer questions that may be interpreted as invasive or painful.
Zakeri tells Elite Daily,
Don't tell them how they seem unless they ask. They are in a fragile place, so defining them without them being ready to hear it can encourage further regression. Coming from a genuine, empathic, caring place can help them feel safe enough to hear suggestions from you. But don't offer to 'fix' before you offer your heart.
Even saying, 'I went through something like this before, and I get it' can mean the world to a friend. Then they will likely ask, 'What did you do to feel better?'
Zakeri also stresses that a person who's feeling depressed is not as rational as usual because their thoughts are clouded with their own depressive feelings. This can be really overwhelming for the person, so just the act of sitting and being there until your friend feels safe is sometimes the best thing you can possibly do.
2. Remember You Might Not Understand How They Feel, Even After They Open Up To You
If you haven't experienced depression, you aren't necessarily going to understand what it feels like. It's not a particularly one-size-fits-all kind of thing.
According to Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, asking your friend why they are sad or telling them to be more positive doesn't usually help.
She tells Elite Daily,
Everyone experiences emotions to varying degrees and [in] different ways. Accept that you may not understand what someone is going through. People with depression may often feel they are the source of difficulty (cancelling plans, needing to be in a quiet space). Often a person with depression cannot control what they are sad about. Just because one person can handle a certain issue or circumstance doesn't mean everyone can.
Since depression can often make someone feel out of control, Hershenson explains, having someone around who is nothing but supportive can help ground them and ensure they feel safe.
3. Keep In Contact
Psychologist Dr. John Mayer tells Elite Daily that the simple act of keeping in contact with your friend is a great way to show you're there and that you genuinely care about their well-being.
While your friend might not be interested in doing much of anything, Dr. Mayer says encouraging them to spend time doing things they like with the people they love most can provide a great source of positivity for them.
Licensed professional counselor Michele Moore adds even more to this idea:
Try to get the person out of their normal environment or routine. Studies have shown that doing new or different things can help bolster dopamine, a key neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. Even just going for a walk can be helpful. Use this time to explore what the person finds meaning in, and share how you yourself have overcome struggles.
4. Encourage The Value Of Professional Help
Dr. Mayer stresses the importance of gently encouraging your friend to seek out help or someone to talk to. Whether their depression is situational or a more long-term problem, professional help is always an effective resource for learning how to cope with mental health issues.
He tells Elite Daily,
Encourage them to seek an assessment by a qualified mental health expert and to follow their recommendations. And remind them to not give up on help if they are having (or had) a poor experience with a helper/professional.
5. Remember That Safety Trumps All
If you're aware your friend has thought about hurting themselves (or has actually done so in the past), Zakeri explains, you can let them know that you need to call for help.
This can involve, for example, dialing 911, reaching out to a therapist, or maybe even the person's spouse or parent. This can obviously be really difficult because it can feel like meddling, but when someone's safety is at stake, it's important not to hold onto that information alone.
6. Be Aware Of Your Own Boundaries
You can absolutely offer love and support to a friend in need, but remember, in order to be there for someone, you first need to be there for yourself. As Moore explains, making sure you address your own emotional and physical needs is crucial before tackling someone else's.
She tells Elite Daily,
It's possible as a helping friend to become so depleted that you 'burn out.' It's important to realize that you need to keep your own tanks full in order to continue to help someone else (which can become very taxing and draining).
Try to recognize your own emotional boundaries and make those boundaries clear (like, for example, when you need time for yourself and can't be available to talk or come over).
If you or someone you love is battling these types of mental health issues, remember that help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential assistance around the clock. You can reach them at 1-800-273-8255.