How to Help a Friend with Depression

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Depression is a terrible and painful disorder. The feelings of worthlessness, sadness and emptiness can immobilize the best of us. If you have a friend or loved one who is experiencing depression, they could benefit from your support.

When someone experiences depression for the first time, they might not recognize it for what it is. They are experiencing feelings they are not used to at an incapacitating level, likely don’t know how to explain what they are feeling, and might even become fearful because what they are feeling is completely foreign to anything they have any experience with.

What Doesn’t Help

Understand that everything your friend is experiencing, no matter how incomprehensible it might seem to you, is very real and frightening to them. You are wise to accept whatever they are willing to tell you at face value. Belittling these feelings and scoffing at them tells your friend that you are not taking them seriously. This only adds to the alienation they are already feeling and puts a barrier between you.

Never tell a friend they can “solve” depression just by trying harder. It belittles the pain they are experiencing, it isn’t necessarily true and it can be dangerous if the depression worsens.

Telling your friend that you “know how they feel” because you were sad once when a loved one died doesn’t quite hit the mark. While depression may be triggered by the death of a loved one, the sadness one feels over a relatively short period is not the same debilitating depression that may last for an extended period and require treatment.

How You Can Help

Listen to your friend. Take their pain and worry seriously. Don’t make judgments or give advice, just share their thoughts and make sure they know you support them.

If your loved one is in treatment, be encouraging. Help them remember to take their medication. Drive them to doctor appointments. If they aren’t in treatment, help them find a provider or a support group.

For many, re-connecting with their church or other religious group might provide comfort, as some religious communities offer counseling or support groups. Offer to help find a group that meets your friend’s needs.

Many large employers offer therapy for a variety of conditions as a benefit. Often known as EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programs, these programs are usually managed by human resources but utilize local therapists. This is a possible source of treatment that you could suggest to your friend.

Ask your friend if they’d like to see a movie, or have lunch with you. Sometimes a simple walk on a beautiful day is enough to get some good endorphins flowing, which can help lift the veil of sadness for a little while.

If your friend talks openly about suicide, or shows other signs that they are thinking about it – giving away valued items, showing a preoccupation with death and violence, engaging in high-risk behavior, stockpiling pills – take it seriously. Alert the patient’s doctor or mental health provider, or other close family members. If you believe that action is imminent, don’t hesitate to call 911.

A loving friend showing empathy and compassion can mean the world to someone with depression. You can be that friend.

Sources: Helpguide.org and Mayo Clinic

 
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