It can be challenging to see a friend feel sad, frustrated and withdrawn. These may be signs of depression, a mood disorder that affects 16 million adults in the U.S. So how can you provide support to friends and loved ones?
As a friend, provide a safe environment for discussion and take time to listen. You could be the first step in your friend’s recovery by helping them seek care from a mental health professional,” says Jeffrey DeVore, LMSW, ACSW, ACT, a behavioral health social worker and psychotherapist at Henry Ford Health.
Recognizing Depression Symptoms
We all go through difficult times. But 1 in 6 Americans will have depression during their lifetimes, feeling despair and losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. Nearly 50% of these individuals will also experience anxiety, which causes excessive worry, fear and panic.
Depression impacts physical health as well, increasing a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. “That’s why your efforts can improve your friend’s overall health,” says DeVore. “Start by learning about depression to understand your friend’s thoughts and actions better.”
Your friend may be depressed if they have one or more of these symptoms:
- Angry outbursts or irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Inability to concentrate on a task or make decisions
- Loss of appetite
- Low self-esteem
- Poor personal hygiene
Do’s and Don’ts When Supporting a Friend With Depression
“There is still a great deal of stigma associated with depression. Your friend may feel ashamed or guilty about feeling depressed. Support can be a welcome relief,” says DeVore.
DeVore recommends keeping these “do’s” in mind when supporting a friend with depression:
- Be honest: It’s ok to tell your friend your concerns for them, including changes you observe in their thoughts and actions.
- Encourage professional care: Many people with depression may not recognize their symptoms. Others may feel they can overcome challenges by themselves. Explain that there are many people qualified to provide support and treatment.
- Have patience: There are various treatment options for depression, including therapy and medications. These treatments may take time to relieve symptoms, but research shows they are effective.
- Provide a safe environment: Create a welcoming, calm environment that allows your friend to share feelings and concerns.
While you may have the best intentions, some attempts to help can actually be harmful. DeVore recommends avoiding these “don’ts”:
- Be the sole source of support: Don’t be the only person helping your friend. Share your concerns with other people close to them and create a support network.
- Promise to keep your friend’s depression a secret: While it’s important to respect your friend’s privacy, it’s okay to help them connect with medical professionals and resources. Reassure them that it’s okay to share how they’re feeling with individuals they are close to.
- Forget to care for yourself: Supporting a friend with depression can be emotionally draining. Take time for your self-care and attend to your daily work, family and home commitments.
- Take on the role of a therapist: It’s not your responsibility to assess your friend’s mental health and provide counseling. Instead, encourage them to get help from qualified mental health professionals.
- Use hurtful language: It’s important to be positive and inclusive when speaking about mental health. Statements like “get yourself together” or “snap out of it” can be hurtful. These comments may cause your friend to withdraw further. This language could also discourage your friend from seeking care.
Suicide Warning Signs
“If you’re concerned that your friend’s depression is worsening, it’s okay to speak up,” says DeVore. “Many people assume that you shouldn’t discuss suicide with someone who’s depressed. But by asking if someone is thinking about harming themselves, you can more rapidly respond and get them the help they need.”
Warning signs your friend may be considering suicide include:
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Giving away possessions or getting personal affairs in order
- Increasing alcohol or substance use
- Saying what seems like a final goodbye to family or friends
- Talking about suicide or dying
- Withdrawing and wanting to be alone
Finding Mental Health Support for Depression
“The first step is to connect your friend with a medical professional who can conduct a thorough physical and mental health evaluation,” says DeVore.
Offer to help your friend connect with these resources to get help:
- Primary care physician: Your friend’s doctor knows their medical history, can assess their mental health status and make referrals to mental health professionals for care.
- Community mental health organizations and support groups: These organizations offer resources and referrals for care.
- Suicide prevention hotlines: If you’re concerned that your friend is considering suicide, you can call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for immediate help 24 hours every day. You can also contact your friend’s doctor or therapist. Let others know about your concerns, such as family or close friends.
Jeffrey DeVore, LMSW, ACSW, ACT, is a behavioral health social worker and psychotherapist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Troy.