First of all, kudos for you if you opened this post because you’re worried about your friend. It’s really hard to see someone you care about sink into a mental illness, not knowing what you should do or say.
One out of every ten adults in the US suffers from depression. Not to mention that this number would probably be much higher if there wasn’t any stigma attached to this disorder, or going to therapy at all. At worst, depression can lead to suicide – the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. As someone who has suffered and has seen people suffer from this mental illness, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject.
Understanding What Depression is (And Isn’t..)
I think the first step is to understand what your friend is going through. From another person’s perspective, depression can look like regular sadness. Your friend might not get out much, they’ll say they are sick, don’t feel well but that it will pass. Regular sadness will pass with time, but depression doesn’t work the same way.
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ― Laurell K. Hamilton,
Depression is much more extreme than regular sadness. It lasts longer. It’s more intense. Depression is not sadness. It feels like a dark hole, like all the air has been squeezed out of your lungs, and at worst, it will make you feel completely numb. It’s important to know that – just like many illnesses – the symptoms aren’t the same for everyone, which is one of the reasons I called this guide incomplete. Some people suffering from depression have trouble concentrating, while others are irritable or just feel empty.
What You Can Do To Help
It’s always hard to recognize depression, but especially from the outside. However, when you’re close to someone, there are a few things you can do.
Be aware of significant changes: If you notice any changes in mood, personal hygiene, personality or behavior, it’s okay to voice your concerns to your friend. Changes can (but not always) include: sadness, social withdrawal, self-destructive behavior, loss of interest, change in appetite, change in sleep, irritability, etc. If you’re concerned, ask your friend how things are going, your invitation to talk might be exactly what they’ve been waiting for.
Don’t offer unwanted advice, and don’t try to ‘fix’ them: To be blunt: you can’t cure depression with a daily 20-minute walk. If your friend wants to talk, acknowledge their feelings. Let them know that their feelings are valid. Don’t offer advice and don’t tell them they’ll get over it by doing yoga while eating fat-free vanilla yogurt.
Let them know you’re there for them: Your friend might want to talk. Or maybe they don’t. Either way, let them know you’re there for them. Don’t force them to admit they’re depressed (!). Stay in contact frequently. Shoot them a message every once in a while, maybe even a quick call to check in with them. Offer to do something with them, like grab a bite to eat or watch a movie. Offer to come to their place to make the activity easier and less overwhelming for them.
But don’t take it personally if they say no: If it’s too much for your friend to hang out or even respond to messages – everything can feel overwhelming when you’re depressed – don’t take it personally. Your calls and messages are appreciated, even if they don’t tell you.
Direct them to a professional, but do so carefully: Depending on the situation of your friend, you can direct them to a school counselor, the National Suicide Prevention hotline or an outside source. Don’t tell them what they need to do, simply help them find the best strategy.
Take care of your own mental health too: Again, being there for someone with depression can be draining, so it’s important to take care of yourself too. Don’t ever blame yourself for the depression of your friend, nor the fact that you can’t make them feel better.
Most importantly, if you suspect your friend might hurt themselves or someone else, you should contact a professional immediately. Here is a list of suicide crisis hotlines per country.