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How to Spot & Support a Friend Suffering from Depression


When a friend is in need, we help them. But what if we don’t know they need help or how to help them? When someone we know is experiencing depression, this is often the case.

According to the NAMI, “Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding, treatment and a good recovery plan.”

The first step to help a friend you think may have symptoms of depression is to know the symptoms. According to the APA, here are some of the signs to look for in someone who might be struggling with depression:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In short, depression manifests itself in many different ways and can affect any of us.  Once we know the signs, we are better equipped to recognize when a friend may be struggling with depression and then begin to support them.

How to Support Your Friend

So it seems like your friend may be struggling with some symptoms of depression, what should you do now? It takes courage to support a friend experiencing depression. Here are some things to keep in mind when interacting with them from HelpGuide.org:

  • Get them moving: Invite them for a walk and ice cream or to throw a frisbee at the park. Even small periods of movement can do a lot for our attitude.
  • Guide them out of isolation: There are benefits to spending time alone, but it can lead to dangerous isolation. Playing video games with your friend, going to see a movie together, or meeting for pizza could help your friend out of unhealthy isolation.
  • Encourage them to talk to people they trust: Understandably, they probably don’t trust everyone, but continuing to communicate is vital. Encourage them to talk to you or someone else.
  • Listen and Acknowledge: If they do choose to talk to you, listen! Try to avoid lecturing and giving advice, as that can give the wrong message. Be open and acknowledge your friend as they explore their feelings.
  • Most importantly, trust your gut! if your gut says their behavior seems unsafe, it’s best to get others, like adults, involved. If your friend starts giving stuff away or saying goodbye, this is a sign that you should get help…their safety may be at risk.

It can be challenging to have a friend who you care about suffering from depression. You may experience them distancing from you or being annoyed and not know why, but your patience and caring for them can go a long way in helping them work through their problems and getting to a better place.

Learn more about supporting friends with depression:

Article by After School’s Nick Chmura and the After School Communications Team

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