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5 Ways to Support a Friend With Depression

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It can be so hard to see a friend face depression. What do I say? What if I make it worse? Many don’t know how to start supporting their friend and sometimes, good intentions end up pushing them further away.

When I was in the depths of my depression, I experienced a wide variety of ways people tried to help. While it may be easy to focus on what not to do, here are things that were life-saving for me:

  1. Listen.
    You may have experienced depression yourself or had another close friend go through a similar experience, but depression is different for every individual. Don’t assume you know how they are feeling. Actively listen. Ask them what their experience has been like. Ask more questions if they’re open. This may seem intrusive, but I felt loved and cared for when friends showed genuine interest in the pain I was experiencing.
  2. Be patient.
    Depression often makes you feel irritable and tempted to isolate. A friend with depression may constantly decline your offers to hang out. Still reach out to them, though. Try to do something that would be easy and comfortable for them. I was extremely grateful when a friend would occasionally come over and do homework while I just watched Netflix. A big reason I didn’t want to spend time with others was because I didn’t want to bring them down with my negativity. Your presence shows them how much you value them, even if they’re not themselves.
  3. Be proactive and reach out to them regularly, even if they don’t open up.
    One of the most life-saving things for me was when several friends would text me every one or two weeks, and sometimes more when I was really sick. They would usually just ask how I was doing. Even the short conversation meant so much to me. You may think, “Oh, I’ve offered for them to text/call me anytime.” But depression will cloud this message. Depression may constantly tell them that they’re worthless and that they’re a burden. Keep on reaching out. When they do reach out, realize the incredible amount of strength it took for for them to do so.
  4. Be non-judgmental and don’t react in shock, disgust or blame.
    Depression is an illness. Someone with depression often cannot help what they’re going through. Your friend may get stuck in dark thought patterns, intrusive thoughts, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If they’re ready to open up about their struggles, realize how difficult it is for them to share and to go through it. I felt so relieved when I was able to trust friends that reacted calmly and lovingly to my issues. I would usually test the waters and share more based on their first reactions. I needed to share and receive support.
  5. Be direct and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions.
    You may fear asking your friend with depression about suicide and self-harm because you don’t want to plant the idea in their head. But if they’re wrestling with these thoughts already, it’s usually a big relief to be able to share with someone and not have to keep it a secret. Also, be direct when asking. You don’t have to be mean about it. Try saying something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting a little off recently. Some people think about self-harm or suicide when they’re upset. I love you and want you to be safe.” If they tell you that they’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, gauge the seriousness of the situation and ask them if they have a safety plan. If you don’t feel comfortable asking more about the issues, suggest that they receive more help. Even sharing the national suicide hotline/crisis text line with them can help immensely.

Supporting a friend with depression can be overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t have to be. Stick to these basics. Listen to them, remind them of their worth and tell them you love them.

Unsplash via KaLisa Veer

Originally published: October 19, 2018
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