When your friend is depressed it can feel as if your own life is crumbling. It pains you to see your friend suffer and it hurts you to feel so helpless. Your caring instinct will urge you to help and do everything you can to lighten your friend’s burdens or worries but, at the same time, you may also feel overwhelmed or scared by the situation.
Here are some ways you can help your friend feel better, while also avoiding some common mistakes:
- The first step in helping your friend is to take good care of yourself. Make sure you balance helping out with nurturing your own life and needs. Don’t let yourself drown in your friend’s sorrow; keep an eye on your mood and energy level.
- Be there for your friend; let her know she can safely confide in you. Encourage her to talk openly about her feelings and what she thinks could have triggered her depression.
- Show empathy instead of sympathy. Tell your friend that even though you might not understand exactly how he feels, you care about his well-being and you’re there for him.
- Listen with a kind heart and a non-judgmental mind, even if you don’t agree or you think she’s being unreasonable.
- Suggest professional help and read about depression together. Offer to go with your friend to his first therapy session.
- Check in often. Be gentle and respectful, but persistent.
- Give your friend a hug or a comforting touch on the hand or shoulder. Physical contact is important and very beneficial; of course, make sure she would welcome this special attention.
- Nurture your friendship. Spend quality time together, go see a funny movie, go for a nature walk; a change of scenery will benefit you both.
- Ask your friend for help with something. This will make him feel important and boost his confidence.
- You might feel that sharing the events of your life is inappropriate at this time, however, if you feel your friend has some interest in what you are going through, spend time talking about what’s going on in your life as well.
Some things to be careful of:
- Remember that no one can snap out of depression, it is a long and complex process.
- Refrain from giving advice. Make an effort to understand what your friend is going through instead of trying to find solutions.
- Don’t minimize or ignore depression. While it is important and healthy for both of you to find distractions from the situation, it is also crucial not to neglect treatment or to minimize the severity of depression. Take it seriously.
- If you find yourself feeling drained or losing patience with your friend, find time to put some distance between you and replenish your own energy.
- When you offer help, mean it and live up to it. Do not let your friend down, it would only send the message that he is not important or worth your time.
Some final notes:
- Don’t give up. Be patient. Don’t lose hope even when your friend rejects all your caring gestures and efforts. Be an unconditional friend.
- It might be good to find volunteer activities you could do together to help out in your community. In addition to helping others, this gratifying work might help your friend feel good about herself.
- Always be on the watch for suicidal warning signs such as extreme isolation or anger, a clear loss of interest in life, or comments such as,”‘I wish I were dead” or “Life would be better without me.” Even if you only suspect your friend has suicidal thoughts, please alert someone–call 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.