You have noticed some concerning changes in your friend’s behavior. You might not be sure if it’s depression or not, but you want to see if you can help. Where do you begin?
Depression affects most Americans whether they have it themselves or someone they know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of America’s most prevalent mental disorders. Approximately 17.3 million adult Americans experienced depression in 2017.
How can you tell if your friend is feeling sad or has something more?
Sometimes it may be challenging to differentiate depression from sadness. However, if your friend or family member is experiencing some out-of-character behavioral changes, knowing what to look out for may help you form a clearer picture. Some depressive symptoms we can look out for include:
- Decreased Engagement: They’ve lost interest in the activities they once enjoyed or want to be less social.
- Communication patterns are changing: They’re no longer available to talk or hang out regularly.
- Modifications in sleeping habits and hygiene: They are sleeping less or sleeping a lot more. It seems like they no longer consider hygiene and appearance to be a priority.
- Presents with sadness or anger: They may appear more down, or their temper has become hotter than usual.
- Withdrawal: They may withdraw from friends and family. They are no longer a fixture in the activities they used to be.
- Change in energy levels: They may be experiencing decreased energy (or sometimes increased energy)
- Changes in Appetite: You may notice they are barely eating or eating too much
- Mentions of suicide: Mentions of suicide or what the world would be like without them may be a big red flag.
How to help someone suffering from depression
These are some ways to help you start the conversation.
Use Assertive Communication
Talking openly with a friend about depression is better than making it a taboo subject. Assertive communication includes taking responsibility for your feelings and concerns and communicating your concerns without pointing fingers. You listen to your friend and offer unconditional emotional support.
You may practice using I-statements to do this. You can start a sentence with words like “I’ve noticed” or “I’m worried”, then follow up with why you’re concerned. Avoid words that may cause your friend to feel defensive such as “You aren’t hanging out as often as you used to.” or “You don’t look like yourself.” These types of phrases can cause the person to shut down more.
Try to imagine how your friend must feel without being judgmental. Consider how you might feel if that were you experiencing depression symptoms. Also, consider how you’d like your friends would react.
Keep appropriate eye contact and play an active listening role. when It’s your turn to speak, you can say things like “I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this,” “that sounds difficult,” and “I’m here for you.”
Self-disclosure can also be powerful if you’ve experienced depression too. Letting your friend know about your experience with depression lets them know they’re not alone. Speaking in an open, empathetic manner to them is a helpful way to communicate.
It’s okay to be specific about when and how you will be available for your friend. Let your friend know, for example, that you prefer to talk after your children are asleep. If your friend is behaving poorly with you, you do not have to stand for that. Don’t allow abusive or violent behavior. Do what is best for your safety and health if they continue to behave in this way.
Self-care can also be important. If you don’t help yourself, you cant help others. You need to monitor your health and well-being to help others when things get tough. It can be challenging to support someone suffering from depression. Know your limits and know when it’s time for you to recharge.
If your friend needs more help than you can provide, you can tell them that you support them, but a psychologist or other mental health professional will have the appropriate experience, tools, and training to treat their symptoms.
Depression is not a quick fix. Recovery takes time; It can take weeks or months. If you are aware that their symptoms won’t decrease from one day to the next, you’ll be less likely to lose heart or get discouraged.
Don’t Believe You Can Fix The Problem
Supporting a friend doesn’t mean that you can solve their problems. Depression is often a condition that requires treatment to see improvement, which only a licensed mental health professional can provide.
Don’t Give Up
What if your friend doesn’t like your efforts?
Sometimes people with depression may try to mask their symptoms. It’s easy to be pessimistic about a friend who refuses to seek help. However, try to maintain communication, check in on them, and encourage them to seek help.
What should you do if your friend is having suicidal thoughts?
Don’t ignore your instincts if you worry that your friend might harm themselves. Rather:
- Pay close attention to anything they say about suicide, self-harm, or talk of a world without them in it.
- Check in on them and keep communication open.
- Provide proper resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- Encourage them to seek the help of a licensed clinical psychologist in Miami or other licensed mental health professional.
- Encourage them to speak to a psychiatrist or their doctor to see if medication might be helpful.
- Call 911 if you feel your friend is in immediate danger; get them to the nearest emergency room.
Don’t despair if your friend is in a difficult situation. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals can help and treat depression. Moreover, studies show that social support, friends like you, can also help buffer the effects of depression.
If your friend is open to seeking help from a psychologist, you may offer to help them find a psychologist in their area. If you are in Florida, Dr. Carolina Raeburn, PsyD, may be able to help. She treats depression and provides a warm and empathic approach to therapy.
*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.