How To Support A Friend Who Is Depressed

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated June 9, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, at least 264 million people are living with depression worldwide. If you have a friend with depression, you may be concerned and wish to help them. There are ways that you can support a loved one, such as taking the time to understand depression, but there are also certain things that can be avoided as well, especially on how to help someone who is experiencing depression.

How to help a depressed friend: Educate yourself about depression

You can effectively support a friend experiencing depression

If you want to help someone with depression, it may make sense to educate yourself about depression. Firstly, there are several types of depression including:

  • Major depressive disorder

  • Persistent depressive disorder

  • Seasonal affective disorder

  • Postpartum depression

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

  • Psychotic depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Atypical depression

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, “depression is a serious but treatable medical condition that affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. Though typically characterized by feelings of sadness, depression symptoms may appear as irritability or apathy. Tasks that seemed to be easy before may take longer because of lack of concentration. Sometimes other illnesses or medications can cause or mimic symptoms of depression, so it’s important to have a complete physical examination.”

Not all people living with conditions like depression and bipolar disorder will have similar experiences, and some people may have a tougher time coping than other people. Your friend’s symptoms may not line up perfectly with someone else’s experiences. It’s often best to learn from medically-reviewed sources and your healthcare provider to ensure you have quality information. 

You might feel tempted to tell your friend that you understand what they’re going through or try to compare what they’re feeling to something else that you’ve heard about. Comparing their experiences to something you’ve gone through can be unhelpful. It’s best to try learning about depression and to be there as a source of support. You may not be able to alleviate your friend’s symptoms, but you can be someone who shows them love and support. This support can make a difference, and the more you know about depression, the easier it may be to navigate these conversations.

It can also help to watch for common warning signs of severe depression. Listen carefully when your friend talks about how depression affects their life. Not everyone will handle the symptoms of depression the same way. If you believe that your friend or family member is actively feeling suicidal* or otherwise exhibiting warning signs, consider taking them to the emergency room for immediate help addressing their mental health concerns. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, contact the 988 Suicide Crisis Lifeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 988. The 988 Suicide Crisis Lifeline is available to offer suicide prevention and support 24/7.

Take the time to listen to your friend about their mental health

Depression is a lot more serious than just feeling melancholy for most people, but having someone to talk to can help a lot. If you can be a person that your friend can count on when they need to talk, then that can make a world of difference to them. People with depression can feel isolated when they’re in the midst of a depressive episode, which can last from a few weeks to months or years, depending on the severity of their mental illness. If you’re able to make your friend comfortable and they have an easy time opening up to you, that could be hugely beneficial.

Try to be a person who listens without judgment and knows the power of validating someone’s feelings. This isn’t about coming up with solutions or getting your friend to change how they think about things. It’s just about being present and showing empathy for someone that you care about. This can be helpful whether your friend is coping with minor depressive disorder or clinical depression. Being a good friend and making yourself available when your friend with depression reaches out, is important.

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Offer your help with daily challenges

Recovering from a depressive episode can be a slow process, and some people may struggle when it comes to coping with everyday life. Doing the laundry or going grocery shopping may feel like a daunting task when you’re in the middle of a severe bout of depression. It’s crucial to have support when struggling like this, and you can be there for your friend during this time. 

If your friend seems to be experiencing more difficulty than usual, talk to them about ways you can help. An action such as going grocery shopping might not seem like much to you, but it could mean the world to your friend.

Remember that not every person with depression is going to need or want help from others. Try not to push if your friend declines your offer to provide assistance. Your heart might be in the right place, but some people don’t like feeling like they need others to do certain things. Other people with depression might welcome the assistance. You can be there for your friend and let them know that you can help if they feel like they need it.

Spend time together

You don’t have to make a hang out with your friend all about depression. Sometimes, it may be nice to do things that you both enjoy together. Playing a game together, watching movies, or having other friends over for a quiet hang out might make a great evening.

Not all people are going to want to socialize when they’re depressed. Regardless, it may be helpful to invite your friend to hang out when possible. If your friend doesn’t want to do anything because of how they’re feeling, try to be understanding while letting them know that you’re there for them. This may be painful to experience when you just want to help your friend, but it’s important to be patient and respect their boundaries.

Try not to take offense

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You can effectively support a friend experiencing depression

There may be times when your friend is frustrated with you or others. Depression can take on many forms, and some of those forms involve angry emotions. People going through bouts of depression might experience anger and become irritable. This could even involve your friend saying some hurtful things to you, and this can be tough to address.

These incidents of lashing out at others may not necessarily indicate their true feelings toward you. People can become overwhelmed with emotion, and sometimes hurt the people that are closest to them. Do your best not to take these words personal. It might sometimes be necessary to set some boundaries by taking a step back and giving your friend some space.

Support the idea of going to therapy

It can also be beneficial for your friend to get professional help from a mental health provider or local support group. The best thing that you can do is to support the idea of talking to a mental health professional. You shouldn’t try to force your friend to go to therapy though. They can make that decision on their own, but you can provide gentle support while letting them know that you care about their well-being. Let them know that you think therapy or a support group sounds like a good idea and tell them that you just want to make sure they have all the support they need.

If your friend is already going to therapy, try to be supportive of that and encourage them to continue. Sometimes, people who are depressed may withdraw and want to cancel appointments during depressive episodes but it’s possible for you to encourage them to keep the appointment. Little things like this can make a difference when someone you care about trusts you. Your opinion and support could help a friend to make positive decisions. Remember that therapy is one of the most effective treatments for depression and that navigating depression can be more comfortable with the help of a skilled therapist.

Learning about therapy might help you to bring up good points to your friend as well. For example, there are many therapy options available that can make things easier. Many people may thrive when going to see a therapist in-person at a traditional office, but other people might like the convenience of online therapy and may love being able to get help without having to leave home.

Studies have found that digital therapy had “meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety.” Clients can explore their mental health and depression with a licensed provider in the comfort of their own home or preferred environment. Internet-based therapy is also more convenient for people living in remote areas and it’s typically more affordable than in-person therapy because clients are not required to travel for an appointment.

Your friend might also find taking medication to be useful for treating depression symptoms. But it’s important not to push your friend to do anything that they’re uncomfortable with. Some people may thrive because of taking antidepressant medications, but some may shy away from prescription medications due to concerns about side effects. You could encourage your friend to speak with a doctor to go over options and be supportive of whatever treatment paths your friend decides.

If your friend has not yet been diagnosed, consider talking to them about how to go about the process. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression must be present for at least two weeks for diagnosis. Talk to your friend about the process and remind them that it isn’t anyone’s fault that they have depression if they seem to be feeling guilty. 

Takeaway

Remember to take care of yourself as well. It’s good to look out for others, and it means a lot to have a supportive friend when you’re experiencing depression. However, it’s also important to understand that having people in your life who are living with depression can affect you. Sometimes you might need to take some time out to handle your own issues. Recognize the importance of self-care, and don’t try to overextend yourself. Should you believe that you might benefit from professional help, reach out to an online counselor for suggestions on how to support your friend and maintain your own well-being.

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