6 Things To Remember When You're Trying To Help A Friend Who's Depressed

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Friend comforting another friend who is depressed

With depression affecting so many American adults in a given year, knowing how to help someone with depression is an important skill to have. But before you can help, you first need to know the right way to talk with a friend or loved one whom you feel may be depressed.

Six key facts to remember when trying to help a depressed friend. 

1. There is nothing crazy, weak, bad, or wrong about experiencing depression.

What some people don’t realize is depression is one of nature’s primary ways of responding to stress. When under pressure, our autonomic nervous system is designed to generate a survival response of fight, flight, or freeze. During times of famine, our metabolism is designed to slow down and not burn too many calories to increase the likelihood we will survive. When injured, we instinctively know to get to an isolated place to “lick our wounds,” which increases our safety and gives our bodies a better chance to heal.

While our environments have changed, the wiring of our stress response has stayed the same. Being argumentative, withdrawing socially, staying in bed all day, and overeating to ensure enough calories are all subtle forms of the body’s instinct to fight, flee, or freeze to survive hardships, wounds, or pain.

The field of science called psycho-immuno-neurology says stress in the mind has a direct impact on the body. A familiar example is ulcers that can be a direct result of stress. Similarly, prolonged anxiety releases increased amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, which, over time, can interfere with the brain’s natural chemical balance. Stress can be caused by external factors like losing a job or a loved one. Stress can also be caused by internal factors like low self-esteem or fear of not being able to pay the bills.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Avoid Unwanted Stress

2. Judgment pushes people away, listening openly pulls them closer.

Because depression tends to be a natural result of experiencing pressure, hardship, or pain, it may take courage for the person to open up to you, and they may feel extremely vulnerable. Do whatever you can to help them feel safe in sharing. Be gentle. Ask questions to draw them out, and be prepared you may not always like or agree with what you hear.

No matter what, do not judge. Remember, feelings are not wrong, and feelings are not right. Feelings just are. Listening and acknowledging them as valid is the first step in helping the person heal.

3. Every person has the right to feel their emotions, whatever they are.

In trying to help, we may want to stop negative feelings by dismissing them or telling the person they are wrong to feel as they do. Sometimes, hearing another person’s distress may cause our distress, and it’s natural to want to drive uncomfortable feelings away. However, if you inadvertently try to change someone’s feelings before they are ready to change, the person may argue much stronger to make you understand them or clam up and stop talking because you’ve now proven you don’t understand.

When it comes to handling feelings, the best way out is through. A simple statement like, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” can keep the dialogue flowing and help the person find relief.



RELATED: How To Deal With Depression During Major Life Transitions

4. Depression doesn't have to define a person.

Because depression is the physiological response of how we interpret stress, it is crucial to recognize the depressed person may have limited ability to use their perspective. While the cup may be half full to you, the depressed person may only be able to see the empty part, and what is obvious to you might be invisible to them.

Depressed people are often the ones who set unrealistically high expectations for themselves. They may have an unreasonably low self-image and define themselves as lazy, worthless, or a failure in experiencing hardships or for not performing at their best. Remind them being depressed does not mean they are defective or broken. Point out whatever you can to affirm your faith in them and give them a renewed sense of self-confidence and hope.

Photo: Jacob Lund via Shutterstock

5. It's OK to ask safety-related questions. 

Because depression runs a wide range from general low mood to suicide, it can be awkward to know what questions to ask and which ones to skip. The rule I use is if it crosses your mind, ask about it.

Remember, depression is a form of the flight instinct. To get away from pain, people may employ a variety of dangerous tactics ranging from excessively using drugs or alcohol to cutting themselves, starving themselves, running away from home, or the most extreme form of flight, suicide. If you are concerned someone you love may be doing things to risk their safety or are having thoughts of harming themselves, ask them directly. If so, help them in getting professional help. Even if they don’t want the help, you may save their life.

RELATED: How To Deal With Depression And Not Let It Ruin Your Relationship

6. Everyone who is depressed has different needs. 

People who are depressed often feel hopeless or feel inadequate for needing help, so they may not ask. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Sometimes, they may not know what they need, but often they will.

The needs of each person will be different, so take seriously what they tell you and do what you can. While talking with a doctor or therapist is advisable and might be necessary, never underestimate the value of your ability to help another human being simply by listening, caring, and being willing to help them.

Talking with a loved one who may be depressed may feel uncomfortable, but because depression is natural, it is something most of us will experience sometime during our lives. Fortunately, much of the time depression is temporary, and even if it is chronic, some medications can help. Changing our perspective through talking can also change brain chemistry, so talking with someone you care about might be the thing to makes all the difference.



Because the very nature of depression causes people to shut down and withdraw emotionally, it may be crucial you reach out to them to talk about their depression, as they may be unable to ask for help.

As people are increasingly under more and more pressure, it is natural incidents of depression are increasing. The vital thing to realize is there is a legitimate reason people experience a state of depression even if the cause is unclear. Most often, depression is situational and temporary, and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Our mood and biochemistry often change when external or internal pressures change.

RELATED: 5 Personality Traits That Can Help Combat Depression

Faith Deeter, MFT is a relationship strategist and teacher. Since 1994, she has been helping people improve their lives while facilitating workshops for teens offering continuing education to Law Enforcement, and teaching inmates in a federal prison. She has also been a guest lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.