How to Help Your Friends Who May be Depressed
Clinical depression is characterized by a depressed mood most of the day, loss of pleasure in almost all activities, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, restlessness, and changes in weight or sleep patterns. There are different forms that depression can take. Sometimes it's paired with episodes of hyperactivity or can be caused by changes in the seasons. If your friend is experiencing depression, you will probably want to help them in whatever way you can.
Communicate Care & Concern
One of the most helpful things you can do for someone who is depressed is assure them that they are not alone in their struggles. Communicate to them that you are there for them and that you care about their well-being. For most of us, when our friend tells us that their life is worthless, our automatic reaction is to disagree with them. But we don't want them to feel as though their feelings aren't valid. Avoid saying things like "There's always someone worse off", "No one ever said life was fair" and "Well, just try not to be so depressed, just be happy." While it's probably true that someone else has it worse, it will not help your friend. Instead try, "I'm here for you, I will try to understand, you are important to me."
Ask, Assess, & Affirm
Ask if there is any way that you can help. Your friend may want someone to talk to about their situation. Other times, they might not walk to talk about it at all. Sometimes depressed people crave a distraction from their thoughts and might benefit from a trip to the mall or a movie marathon. Ask your friend what would be best for them and then help them to do it. You will feel like a better friend if you are able to do something you know is helpful to them.
As hard as it may be to talk about, you're going to want to assess your friend for thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If your friend is feeling suicidal, they may be more inclined to tell you if you ask. Try to figure out if they have a plan and if so, learn the specifics. It's easier to protect your friend if you know how they've thought about hurting themselves.
Depression is real. But sometimes people and the media treat it like a made up thing. Your friend might even be feeling like they're going crazy. Affirm to them that they're not! Try telling your friend: "You're not alone in this, there is hope, you can survive this."
Reach for Resources & Refer
Helping a friend who is depressed can be trying even for the best of friends. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself, as well. Set some boundaries if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed. You cannot help your friend if you are not okay yourself. Reach for resources for yourself and your friend but be careful that they're not treating you like their therapist. It can place unrealistic demands on your relationship and may ultimately damage your friendship.
If your friend is talking about committing suicide, or has been struggling for quite some time, encourage them to seek professional help at the Counseling Services Department on the second floor of the Commons Building. And it's free for all Penn State students.
What To Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed: A Practical, Compassionate, and Helpful Guide (Golant, 1998)
Talking to Depression: Simple Ways To Connect When Someone In Your Life Is Depressed (Strauss, 2004)
The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs (Ilardi, 2010)
Engage, Explain, & Eliminate Danger
One of the most important things you can do for your friend is to stand with him/her through this time. It can be a struggle but your friend will benefit best if you engage him/her. Allow him/her to explain what he/she is going through and how he/she feels. Explain what you know and have learned from resources. Take the time to speak with your friend about the dangers of depression and ask your friend to share with you if he/she begins to have suicidal thoughts. As you take the steps to support your friend, make sure you take the steps toward keeping yourself out of danger by taking care of your own mental health as well.
If you or another Penn State Brandywine student would like to speak with a counselor, feel free to contact Penn State Brandywine's Counseling Services Department at 610-892-1270.
This information was modified from the following sites:
10 Things to Say (and 10 Not to Say) to Someone With Depression. Health. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20393228,00.html
Smith, M., Barston, S. & Segal, J. (2012, December). Helpguide.org. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/living_depressed_person.htm
Baddeley, J. (2009, May). How to Help a Depressed Friend (And When to Stop Trying). Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/embracing-the-dark-side/200905/how-help-depressed-friend-and-when-stop-trying-part-1
Dealing With Depression: 9 Ways to Support Someone with Depression. (2011, January). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/06/dealing-with-depression-9-ways_n_804940.html