How to Talk to a Friend About Their Depression
People who suffer from depression can sometimes hide it from other people; however, that task will eventually prove impossible. Generally, the closer the relationship people have or the more severe the condition becomes, the more likely it is that other people will notice it. Some friends and family members are aware of their loved ones’ depression before the person who suffers from it even recognizes her own pain, which means you could initiate someone’s recovery from this debilitating problem.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression causes different problems for different people. For example, age affects this condition, as children and teens are more likely than adults to express their symptoms through irritability rather than sadness. The Mayo Clinic further notes the following symptoms[i]:
- Angry outbursts
- Disinterest in common activities
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
- Changes in appetite (either reduced or increased)
- Lack of energy
- Slowed speech, thoughts and movement
- Fixation upon past failures
- Memory difficulties
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts and speech
If you recognize these problems in yourself or a loved one, then seek professional help as soon as possible.
Beginning the Conversation
When people suspect that their friends suffer from depression, it can be hard to know how to initiate a conversation about treatment. The HelpGuide website suggests beginning by expressing concern[ii]. You may simply say that your friend has seemed different or down lately, and that you wonder how he is doing. As the conversation progresses, ask for further details, such as how long he has been feeling depressed and whether or not a particular incident started the process.
HelpGuide stresses that listening compassionately is far more important than giving advice, as helping someone with depression is likely to be an ongoing process that requires multiple conversations. Continually express your concern and support while being both persistent and gentle.
When speaking to a depressed friend, keep in mind what not to say as well as what to say. Dr. Jean Kim notes that people often say unhelpful things to ease their discomfort in difficult situations[iii]. In the context of depression, unhelpful statements can be blaming people for the illness and disparaging the patient’s willpower, lack of motivation or negative mindset. Rather than helping, Dr. Kim notes that these statements may increase feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
Helpful Statements for Friends with Depression
When speaking to a friend about depression, the following statements and questions will likely be helpful:
- “You are not alone: I am with you.” Depression isolates people, because symptoms make interaction with other people difficult. Depressed people may feel like burdens while they worry that their friends will desert them. However, when people know that they can be themselves and receive support, they can experience healing.
- “You are important to me.” Depression tends to damage self-esteem and lead to feelings of worthlessness, so friends need to counteract this tendency with direct statements of support.
- “I may not understand everything you are going through, but I understand that you are suffering.” No one can fully understand another person’s experiences, but friends must acknowledge the other person’s pain and how severe the symptoms are. Depression is a real disease, so the people who from it need validation and acknowledgement from their friends that their pain is legitimate.
- “I know this is not your fault.” People with a wide range of illnesses may be subtly or directly blamed for their conditions, but this act is more likely to occur with mental illnesses, like anxiety or depression. People with depression feel this kind of shame, so it helps for their friends to directly address it.
- “How can I help you?” Some people do not know how others can help them, but they may still appreciate being asked. Other people are ready for direct help, such as assistance finding treatment or someone to accompany them to counseling appointments. They may need help with transportation or childcare.
With guidance, you can help someone overcome depression.
Treating Depression and Addiction
Depression sometimes co-exists with addiction to drugs or alcohol. For instance, depression can influence someone to turn to drugs to feel better, and drug abuse can develop or worsen depression. No matter which condition comes first, it is important to treat them in an integrated manner, preferably within the same treatment facility. If you are looking for integrated treatment for depression and addiction, then let us help you find the program that best meets your needs. Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, and our admissions coordinators can explain your treatment options and check your insurance coverage at no additional cost. There is treatment and hope, so call now to begin recovery.
[i] “Depression: Supporting a Family Member or Friend,” Mayo Clinic, August 2015, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20045943 (February 4, 2016).
[ii] “Helping a Depressed Person,” Melinda Smith, MA, Suzanne Barston, Jeanne Segal, PhD,, HelpGuide, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-a-depressed-person.htm (February 4, 2016).
[iii] “Six Things You Can Say to Support Someone Who’s Depressed,” Jean Kim, M.D., Psychology Today, July 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culture-shrink/201507/6-things-you-can-say-support-someone-whos-depressed (February 4, 2016).