How To Help a Friend... Who is Depressed

We finish this week's blog topic with ways to help a friend who is struggling with a difficult life situation. Today's topic: How to help a friend who is depressed. I think most of us can relate to the friend who is calling us to vent about a bad week or a relationship dilemma. Perhaps this friend seems "stuck" and continues to fight the same battles over and over. This post isn't about regular life events that you might see effecting your friend, it's about depression. It's important to know the difference.

What is the difference between struggling with life situations and depression? A friend going through depression may sleep all day, or not sleep at all. They might find all of their comfort in food or refuse to eat because they aren't hungry. They might not be able to work or isolate from friendships and activities they would otherwise enjoy. In all, depending on the severity of their depression, they may not be able to function at a level in their life that is different from how they previously were.

You can't cure this person, but it's important to not desert them, either! Depression is an illness that your friend needs outside help for. Keep plugging away by calling your friend and trying to get them out of the house even for brief moments, or stop by their house to bring lunch or coffee.

Be gentle in urging your friend to get professional help, and offer to take him/her to the appointment to provide emotional support. Stepping outside of a comfort zone to admit to a professional that you are depressed can feel overwhelming and embarrassing to many people, so your emotional support is invaluable! Many times, people don't understand the medical aspect of depression and shame themselves into trying to just "get better", not realizing that they need outside help. This is where friendship can be so vital!

What not to say:

Don't tell your friend to "snap out of it" or give judgmental advice on how the need to get their house clean, or stop sleeping so much. Don't minimize their depression by saying things like "Why are you depressed? Your life is great!". Because many people with depression may not have a particular issue they are feeling depressed about (perhaps they have a nice house, great job, and are finacially well off), asking these questions or making these statements will only produce more guilt for something they already have shame about.

As a friend of someone going through depression, remember that outside professional support from a therapist, doctor or other health care professional is vital for your friend. And remember that, even though your friend may not be able to see it now, your friendship is more important to them than ever!

Adapted from "How To Help a Friend", by Nancy Comiskey in O’s Guide to Life; The Best of O, The Oprah Magazine p. 260-262

Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.