Guiding Friends Through Depression: A Handbook
Depression doesn’t just affect the well-being of the person who has it. If someone you love is living with depression, most likely, it’s affecting everyone they’re close to—including you. And as difficult as it is to see a loved one suffer, it can be even harder if you don't know how to help.
Here, we explore exactly how to support a friend or loved one who is living with depression. We'll discuss how to recognize the signs of depression, the best ways to offer support, and, perhaps most importantly, what not to do.
How can you recognize signs of depression?
Depression can be tricky to recognize—especially because many people living with depression have mastered the art of seeming just “fine.” That said, some of the most common symptoms of depression to look out for in a depressed friend, family member, or loved one include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Reduced appetite or increased appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts or talk of death or suicide
- Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
- Significant unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Significant change in appetite
- A sense of worthlessness
- Tired, fatigue, or low energy level
In addition, there are some warning signs and behavioral clues that might indicate a friend or loved one is living with depression:
Loss of interest
If your friend or loved one no longer seems to take any pleasure or interest in activities they once enjoyed, including hobbies, relaxing, socializing, sex, or sports, this could be a sign of depression.
Isolation and social withdrawal
Similarly, if you notice your friend is consistently cancelling plans and failing to respond to calls or texts, it may be a sign that something deeper is going on. Don’t assume your friend is just busy—if your gut is telling you it may be something more, continue trying to reach out and check in, or just let them know if you’re available if they need to talk.
Irritability or anger outbursts
Depression doesn’t just mean “sadness”—in fact, depression and anger are closely linked. Many people living with depression will exhibit symptoms of irritability, sometimes even aggression, during a hard time. They may seem newly prone to angry outbursts over things that wouldn't have bothered them before.
Of course, there are many potential causes of fatigue, but depression and tiredness are closely linked. One of the most consistent symptoms of depression is extreme fatigue—beyond everyday tiredness, it’s a crushing, full body fatigue that rarely, if ever, lets up. If your friend or loved one is regularly oversleeping or wanting to stay home to rest, this could be a sign they are living with depression.
How can you support a friend through depression?
Depression is complex and can only be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. The signs and symptoms of depression can overlap with other mental health conditions or even everyday challenges of life. If you're concerned about a friend’s wellbeing and notice them struggling with their mental health, there are many things you can do to offer emotional support.
First, and most importantly, is making sure your friend is safe. Review the signs of suicide, and if at any point you feel your friend is in immediate danger or at risk of suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Be patient with them
Depression doesn’t follow a particular rulebook. It’s also not generally very polite. If your friend doesn’t respond to your messages, or if it’s difficult to get them to join in on plans, try not to take it personally. Although this can feel hurtful, remind yourself that these types of behaviors are expected in people with depression. Your friend may sincerely want to engage with you despite the challenges they're going through. Keep (gently) reaching out to be a source of social support.
Open a conversation
Often, the best way to support someone living with depression is simply by letting them know you’re there for them. Remind your friend that you're there to listen, and be a shoulder to cry on or source of comfort—whatever they need. Letting them know that they can turn to you if they need you can go a very long way.
Be willing to listen
Rather than jumping straight into problem-solving mode, start by truly listening to them without offering advice or opinions. Chances are, your friend will appreciate having a safe space to share what they’re going through without fear of judgement.
Help them find support
Depression requires professional care and treatment, although unfortunately not everyone feels comfortable seeking this out. Encourage your friend to seek out support by reminding them that professional treatment works, and the right treatment plan, like therapy or antidepressants, can make a huge difference in their symptoms and overall quality of life.
You might offer to drive them to their appointments or support groups or help them with scheduling if you think that would help get them to commit to treatment. That said, just because you’re ready for your friend to get help, doesn’t mean they are. Unfortunately, you can’t force someone to seek treatment if they’re unwilling. You can, however, make it clear that you’re there to help when your friend is ready for treatment.
Seeking out information about depression from reputable sources is a great way to educate yourself about the reality of living with depression. Plus, your friend will appreciate your willingness to understand—independently from them—what they’re going through. If you’re not sure where to start, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) are great resources to start with.
You can also check out: What is major depressive disorder (MDD)?
What should you avoid when your friend has depression?
When you’re looking to support a friend with depression, there are a few things to be cautious of in order to help your friend feel cared for.
Try not to take things personally
If your friend withdraws, cancels plans, or doesn’t return your messages, remember: this is likely a symptom of their depression. It’s not about you personally. Most likely, they deeply appreciate you continuing to connect with them despite what they’re going through.
Don’t miss out on your own self-care
It’s hard to be fully present for someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. The stress of having a friend or loved one living with depression is not something to take lightly. Be sure to invest in your wellness by eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking time for yourself by doing activities you enjoy.
Avoid taking a “fix it” approach
Sometimes, the best thing you can offer to someone living with depression is simply being there for them. Depression does not have an easy fix, and there isn’t always a clearcut solution. Every individual living with depression has their own unique situation and circumstances; after encouraging them to seek out professional support, it may be most appropriate to take a step back and make yourself available to listen, rather than remaining actively involved in your friend’s care.
Professional help with Talkiatry
If your friend is thinking about or is ready to receive professional support, Talkiatry is a great place to start. With Talkiatry, your friend can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of their home, and they can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, encourage them to take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for them and get matched with a psychiatrist.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Nidhi Sharoha is a double board certified psychiatrist in Psychiatry and Consultation Liaison Psychiatry. She completed her undergraduate training at Stony Brook University followed by medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has completed both a Residency in Psychiatry and Fellowship in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center.
Dr. Sharoha has held academic appointment at Stony Brook University Hospital, practicing as a consultant psychiatrist as well as the Associate Director of Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Fellowship Program. She has been deeply involved in teaching throughout her years
She has a genuine interest in treating a vast array of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, post traumatic stress disorders and obsessive compulsive and related disorders. She also has experience in treating patients with medical comorbidities and has training in issues related to women’s health.
Patients looking for a psychiatric provider will find that Dr. Sharoha has a gentle approach to diagnosis and management of her patients. She believes in the principle that body and mind are interconnected which allows her to provide comprehensive care to all of her patients.