According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, Healthline reports that 1 in 10 Americans will be affected by the condition at some point in their lives, and the number of patients that are clinically diagnosed with depression increases by an estimated 20% each year.
With these statistics, it’s likely that if you don’t already, you will one day have a friend or family member fall victim to depression. So what do you do when that happens? We surveyed experts to hear their takes on how to properly help a loved one navigate the waters of depression.
Don’t be afraid to ask about it
It may be uncomfortable for you to initially bring up the subject but people that are going through depression often find it helpful when their loved ones acknowledge (and don’t ignore) their diagnosis. “Asking about it is good,” says 37-year-old Jessica Romeo who has been battling depression off and on for the past few years. “Just generally checking in is great. Even if I don’t feel up to hanging out, it feels great to know that people care, that I have a support system out there,” she explains. “And when you talk about it with me, it makes me feel like even though you might not understand what I’m going through, you are there for me if I need you.”
Understand that they may need a little space at times
“You can tell your depressed friend, ‘You can call me anytime’ and ‘Let me know if you need anything,’” says Lisa Beebe, who has struggled with the condition for most of her adult life. “But if you really want to help, you will probably have to be the one to reach out. When I am depressed, it feels impossible for me to call anyone (even people who’ve urged me to call them when things are bad) because I feel like such a burden. I’m convinced my friends’ lives are better when I’m not bothering them,” she reveals.
Offer as much emotional support as you can
According to John Grohol, CEO and founder of Psych Central, when it comes to depression, one of the best things a friend can do for someone they care about is simply to let them know that they are there for them. “Be available to listen, to lend a hand with things your friend needs help with (such as getting groceries, running some other kind of errand), and doing all of this without judgment,” he explains. “Another thing that can help is to check in with them daily, even if they say they don’t want it,” he adds.
Don’t take their lack of engagement personally
Personal life coach Noreen Sumpter has a close friend who is depressed and has consequently learned that him being distant and occasionally aggressive with her has absolutely nothing to do with her. “He doesn’t speak on the phone. He only texts. He only shares a little bit in the text. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘I’m fine.’ A few words and that’s it,” she explains. “He said, ‘it’s not personal. It’s got nothing to do with your happiness.’” Sumpter adds that one of the best ways to handle a friend in this state is to give them the space that they need and to come to terms with the fact that a little distance is what they need to help them cope with their current phase of life.
Help them come up with an action plan
Candace Presser, LCSW suggests that you gently nudge your friend towards talking to a professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. “They might need meds or maybe they won’t but they certainly need someone skilled at assessing the situation to make sure safety isn’t an issue,” she notes. “Listen with compassion and then help get them to a therapist who is properly trained in providing healthy coping techniques.” Grohol suggestions that you do what you can to assist your friend with making a plan to get help, as that process can easily overwhelm them. “Help them to navigate their care options, which can often be frustrating depending on the kind of insurance they have and the kind of care they need,” he explains. “For instance, it can be incredibly frustrating just trying to set up that first appointment with a mental health care professional or psychiatrist. A little help with such a thing could go a long way.”
Grohol stresses the importance of doing your part to learn all you can about depression and educating yourself on how to properly address the topic with your friend. For instance, it can be extremely detrimental to tell a depressed friend that the mere act of shifting their mindset to positive thinking will fix all of their troubles or that their ailment is “all in their head.” It’s more important to sympathize with your companion, let them know that they are not in this alone, and that you are there if they need your help. He recommends that people that are attempting to assist depressed friends read these two Psych Central articles: 10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person and his listicle on 6 Things to Say to Someone with Depression or Who’s Depressed.
Helping a friend through depression, especially if it’s a condition that you don’t fully understand yourself, can be a difficult experience. But following the tips above should help you to better relate to your loved one and find ways to encourage them to get the assistance that they may need from a mental disorder professional. For more information on the signs and symptoms of depression visit: National Mental Health Depression Page and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Depression Page.