When a friend is going through a tough time, it can be hard to know how to support them in a way that actually helps them. Often, it’s hard to know what is best for someone, and sometimes it’s our human nature to expect that our friends need what we think they need or that they will benefit from what has worked for us. This is especially true when a friend is feeling depressed. But how do you know if they’re dealing with depression, what should you do, and when should you tell their loved ones?
Here, we rounded up some important things to keep in mind when supporting a friend who’s depressed.
How do I know if my friend is depressed?
According to psychotherapist Vanessa Kensing, depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, loss of interest, changes in sleep and appetite, low mood and energy levels, and difficulty concentrating. Since depression can look or feel different for each person, it can be hard to identify. However, Kensing says that if you notice your friend constantly changes their behavior, for example if they keep canceling plans, don’t seem interested in things they used to enjoy, or act more irritable and down in the dumps, they could be struggling with depression.
Ask your friend what they need right now.
It can be hard to ask for help, especially when you’re experiencing a bout of depression. With this, Kensing says the best thing you can do to support a friend is to outright ask what your friend needs, and how you can support them in whatever they’re going through. “Some people need to know that you will listen without trying to ‘fix’ them, while others may want you to be more proactive in your assistance,” asserts Kensing. Asking how they feel or what they need, instead of making assumptions or suggestions will show them that you’re there merely to listen and without judgment.
Be curious and compassionate about what’s going on with them.
While stigma around mental health is slowly dissolving, it can still be hard to identify or accept that you’re struggling with depression. For this reason, Kensing recommends approaching a friend with depression with a framework of curiosity. Don’t try to therapize or diagnose someone, instead ask thoughtful and supportive questions in a way that invites them to speak openly about what’s going on with them. This will give them a sense of safety, which could lead them to be more honest and help them release pent up emotions.
Don’t expect yourself to become someone’s sole support system.
While being a good friend may mean you need to show up for someone in need, it’s important to not expect yourself to become their sole support system. Kensing says that when this happens it can lead to caretaking, which could force us to neglect ourselves and our own wellbeing. In these cases, it’s important to have healthy boundaries and find a way to support your friend in a way that is still manageable and comfortable for you. And if your friend does not respect that, it’s not on you to appease their expectations. Beyond this, Kensing says, “Be aware of how someone's depression may affect you. You may want to increase your self care before and after times spent supporting a friend.”
Know when to reach out for additional support.
If your friend is discussing intentional plans to harm themselves you should immediately reach out to emergency services. “Depending on your friend's relationships with family, it may be appropriate to reach out to them for additional support,” says Kensing. According to her, some major indicators of that this could be a good idea is if a friend isn't keeping up with obligations, for example school work, and not caring for themselves (e.g. not eating or not attending to hygiene).
Photo by Lauren Tepfer