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How To Help A Friend With Depression

How Help Friend Depression

There is nothing quite as painful as witnessing a friend or family member struggle with depression. Unfortunately, people of all ages are experiencing more depression than before the pandemic. According to the United Health Foundation, depression and other mental distress increased in Kentucky by 26% during the Coronavirus in 2020. The likelihood of having a friend or family member struggling with depression is at an all-time high. At Sun Behavioral Health Kentucky, we see how depression affects our community, and we’re here to help.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew exactly what to say and how to say it? Life would be easier if we could wave a magic wand and fix the problems of the people we love. Sadly, we can’t fix something as deep as depression. It can be frustrating to see someone we love in that kind of pain. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help. We might not be able to “fix” depression, but we can make life a little easier for those who are struggling with it.

Recognizing the Signs of Depression in a Friend

If you suspect that a friend is struggling with depression, there are emotional and physical signs you can look out for.

Physical Depression Identifiers

Physical depression identifiers are behaviors that often present themselves in those who are living with depression. Some of these physical depression identifiers include

  • Constant physical pain. This can be anywhere on the body. The shoulders, neck, head, legs, and stomach are common.
  • Little to no energy. Someone with depression might have difficulty focusing at work, school, or at home. They might decline invitations to leave the house. They may stop
    doing things like cooking or cleaning.
  • Sleeping too much or too little. Everyone’s depression looks a little different. For some, depression makes them want to lie in bed all day and sleep. They may feel physically fatigued all the time. Others may sleep very little when they’re depressed. Both sleeping too much and sleeping too little can lead to constant fatigue.
  • Frequent stomach issues. If your friend has regular bouts of nausea, vomiting, indigestion, IBS, or vomiting – it could be a sign of depression. If the brain and the gut were people, they’d be best friends. These two body parts are extremely connected.
  • Lack of a sex drive. A lot of energy is used while depressed. It can cause people to lose interest in things they used to love, like sex. Certain depression medications can also decrease sex drive.

Emotional Depression Identifiers

Emotional signs of depression can be harder to notice. It’s a little easier if you know what to look out for. Here are some common emotional depression identifiers:

  • Your friend may not accept invitations to visit or hang out. If your friend suffers  from depression, going out or leaving their house might feel exhausting or overwhelming. You may notice them becoming more of a homebody.
  • Your friend may cancel plans (frequently). Being around other people is hard when you’re struggling with depression. It can feel impossible to participate in things like small talk when the inside of your head feels dark or unsafe.
  • Your friend may start talking about death or self-harm. If conversations with your friend frequently merge into thoughts about death, suicide, or self-harm, they could be living with depression. They may be contemplating things like death regularly, and it will sometimes show up in conversations.
  • Your friend might have frequent crying spells. There is usually no way to know if your friend is crying behind closed doors. The hope is that they’ll talk to you about it or that you’ll witness it. Keep an eye out for signs that they’ve been crying.
  • Your friend is moving or speaking slowly. This is a common sign of depression, and it’s not as obvious as it sounds. It shows up in little ways – they’re late for things, they take longer to make decisions, or they don’t like feeling rushed. When people are depressed, they also tend to speak a little slower. This is usually because it’s harder for them to formulate thoughts or full sentences.
  • They complain or they’re negative all the time. If your friend constantly finds  something to complain about, it could mean they’re dealing with depression. They’re not trying to “bring you down”. Depression can make people see the world differently.

Things You Can Do When Your Friend is Depressed

There is nothing you can do to “fix” depression. No matter how painful it is for you to witness your friend in pain – it’s more painful for them. However, there are little things you can do to help them feel supported, understood, and cared for.

Something very helpful for people who are experiencing depression is having someone to talk to. Active listening, or listening without the intention of responding, is one of the best ways to connect with your depressed friend. Don’t worry about giving advice, just be there for them. Bring them a cup of coffee and sit next to them on the couch. Ask them if they’d like to talk. If you’ve noticed that they’re unwilling to leave the house, ask if you can come over to spend time with them.

With depression comes exhaustion. If you suspect that your friend is feeling depressed, you can assume that they’ve been too tired to do things around the house. They might be struggling with cleaning or making meals. This is an opportunity for you to offer to help out. Make them nutritious food and drop it off at their house. You can also tell them you’d like to help them around the house.

Something else that’s helpful is thoughtfulness. Depression and loneliness go hand-in-hand. If your friend is depressed, they might be feeling alone. What are their interests? Do they like books? If so, leave one of your favorite books in their mailbox with a little note. Are they a fan of music? Send them some new songs you think they’d like. Maybe they like dog or cat videos? It doesn’t take much time to send them some YouTube videos you think they’d like. Little actions like this show your friend that you’re thinking of them and you’re there for them.

You can also call them to check-in. This is another thoughtful action. A text can also be just as effective. You simply need to show them that you care and that you’re around if they need someone to talk to.

Things You Can Say When Your Friend is Depressed

Giving advice or “saying too much” is a slippery slope. You can’t change what your friend is going through, and if you try to give advice or “words of wisdom,” it could backfire. No matter how good your intentions are, your advice could make them feel more misunderstood or alone than they felt before. Giving advice or opinions should be avoided, but there are still helpful things you can say (and some things you should avoid saying).

A phrase you should always avoid is: “it’s all in your head.” Nothing is more hurtful than this phrase when someone is depressed. They’re already second-guessing themselves and wondering if they’re doing something wrong by feeling sad. Your intentions might be good, but nine times out of ten, this is something you should avoid saying.

Another phrase that should never be used is “it’s not that bad.” If you say something like this to a friend who is suffering, you’re minimizing their feelings. This can create a rift between you and your friend, and it won’t make them feel better.

Your main goal as a supportive friend should be to validate their feelings. Tell them things like “that sounds really hard” or “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” Make sure your friend feels heard, supported, and safe. You can also say things like “I’m always here if you need to talk” and “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s going to get better.”

You can also gently remind your friend of the good and positive things in their life. An example of this might be something like: “I’m here for you, your children are here for you, and your animals love you.” It’s important that you don’t use those positive words as a way to tell your friend they shouldn’t be depressed. You’re using those words to remind your friend of how supported they are.

As long as your words validate, support, and comfort your friend – you’re on the right track.

Let SUN Kentucky Help

At Sun Behavioral Health Kentucky, we recognize the importance of friendships in those living with depression. For questions about our depression treatment options or to get in touch with someone that can help, call us at (859) 429-5188 today!


FAQs About How To Help A Friend With Depression

What do you say when a friend is feeling depressed?

First and foremost, listening is the most important thing you can do. Some supportive things you can say include “I’m here for you”, “how can I help?” and “this must be really hard.” Validation and support are extremely important.

What to do if your friend has suicidal thoughts

If your friend is contemplating suicide, always take it seriously. It’s never a joke. Encourage your friend to get treatment for depression. A mental health professional can get your friend the help they need.

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