How to Help a Friend with Depression

Three Parts:Helping Your Friend Get Treatment for DepressionSupporting Your FriendMoving Beyond Depression with Your Friend

Depression is a serious medical condition that afflicts many people. If you have a friend who is suffering from depression, you may be unsure about what you should do to help. There are several ways that you can help a friend who is suffering from depression, from encouraging them to get treatment to building them up with kind words. Keep reading to learn how to help a friend with depression.

Part 1
Helping Your Friend Get Treatment for Depression

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    Watch for symptoms of depression in your friend. You may suspect that your friend is depressed by the way he or she is acting. If you are unsure, there are several common signs of depression that may help you to determine if something is wrong. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:[1]
    • Persistent sad feelings
    • Loss of interest in hobbies, friends and/or sex
    • Excessive fatigue or feeling slowed down in thinking, speaking, or movement
    • Increased or decreased appetite
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
    • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
    • Irritability
    • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
    • Weight loss or gain
    • Thoughts of suicide
    • Aches pains or digestive problems
    • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness[2]
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    Encourage your friend to talk to a doctor. As soon as you suspect that your friend is suffering from depression, you should encourage him or her to see a doctor. Your friend may be denying that there is a problem or maybe even embarrassed to admit that there is a problem. Because some depression symptoms are atypical, many nonclinical people do not associate them with being depressed; apathy and numbness are often overlooked as depression symptoms. The extra encouragement of a friend may be all that your friend needs to seek help.
    • Say something like, “I am concerned about you and I think that you should talk to a doctor about how you have been feeling lately.”
    • Encourage your friend to follow up with a psychologist as well.[3]
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    Let your friend know that you are willing to help. While your friend may agree to seek help, he or she may be too depressed to follow through with making and keeping an appointment. By offering your ongoing help, you can ensure that your friend will actually get the help he or she needs.
    • Offer to make the appointment for your friend and even go with him or her to the doctor to offer your support.
    • Offer to help your friend make a list of questions to ask the doctor before the appointment.[4]

Part 2
Supporting Your Friend

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    Encourage your friend every day. Depression can make a person feel worthless, but you can use encouraging words to support your friend until your friend remembers his or her worth again. Say something encouraging to your friend every day to show that you care and that your friend is valuable to you and to others.
    • Point out your friend’s strengths and accomplishments to help build them up. For example, you could say, “You are such a gifted artist. I really admire your talent.” Or, “I think it is so amazing that you have raised three wonderful children on your own. Not everyone has that kind of strength.”[5]
    • Give your friend hope by reminding them that the way they are feeling is only temporary. People who suffer from depression often feel like things will never get better, but you can remind them that this is not the case. Say something like, “You may not believe it now, but the way that you are feeling will change.”[6]
    • Avoid saying unnecessary things like, “it’s all in your head,” or, “Snap out of it!” Making judgmental statements like these will make your friend feel worse and may cause their depression to become more severe.[7]
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    Let your friend know that you are there for them. Depression can make people feel isolated and like no one cares. Even if you have demonstrated your concern by doing things to help your friend, he or she may need to hear you say that you are there for them in order to believe it. Let your friend know that you are available and that they should contact you right away if they need you.
    • You can communicate your willingness to help by saying something like, “I know you are going through a difficult time right now, and I just want you to know that I am here for you. Call or text me if you need me.”
    • Try not to get discouraged if your friend does not respond to your positivity the way that you want or expect. It is common for people with depression to be apathetic, even towards people who care about them.
    • Remember that sometimes the best way to communicate your support is just being there with the friend. You can just spend time with them watching a movie or reading, with no pressure to talk about depression or even to hope that they will cheer up. Accept them just as they are in that moment.
    • Set boundaries about when you can accept phone calls or texts. No matter how much you want to help your friend, make sure that helping them does not take over your life. Make sure that your friend knows that you care, but that if he or she is having an emergency in the middle of the night, she should call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or call 911.[8]
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    Listen when your friend wants to talk. Listening to your friend and attempting to understand what your friend is going through is an important aspect of supporting them through recovery. Allow your friend to tell you about his or her feelings when he or she is ready.
    • Don’t pressure your friend into sharing. Just let them know that you are willing to listen when they are ready and give them time.
    • Be attentive as you listen to your friend. Nod and react appropriately to let them know that you are listening.
    • Try echoing what your friend has just said now and then during the conversation to let them know that you are paying attention.
    • Avoid getting defensive, trying to take over the conversation, or ending sentences for them. Be patient even though it might be hard sometimes.
    • Continue to make your friend feel heard by saying things like, “I see,” “Go on,” and “Yes.”[9]
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    Recognize the signs of suicide. Depressed people do sometimes commit suicide when the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness become too much to bear. If you friend talks about suicide, take it seriously. Don't assume they won't act out on their thoughts, especially where there is evidence that they have a plan. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
    • Threats or talk of suicide
    • Statements implying they don't care about anything or won't be around anymore
    • Giving away their stuff; making a will or funeral arrangements
    • The purchase of a gun or other weapon
    • Sudden, unexplained cheerfulness or calm after a period of depression
    • If you observe any of this behavior get help right away! Call a health care professional, mental health clinic or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to get advice about what action to take.[10]

Part 3
Moving Beyond Depression with Your Friend

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    Plan some fun outings together. As your friend begins to feel better, keep your friend moving beyond depression by planning some fun outings. Choose activities that you both enjoy and make plans to do those things so that your friend will always have something to look forward to. Plan to go to the movies together, go on a weekend hike, or have coffee together.[11]
    • Just make sure that you do not pressure your friend into doing anything that he or she is not ready to do. Be patient and persistent.
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    Laugh with your friend. Laughter is known as the best medicine for a reason. Recent studies have shown that laughter helps to alleviate the symptoms of depression and make people who are depressed feel more connected to others. You probably know what makes your friend laugh better than anyone else does, so make sure that you use that knowledge laugh with them on a regular basis.[12]
    • Make sure that you only use humor in appropriate situations. If your friend is opening up to you or crying, you might not want to tell a joke at that moment.
    • Do not be discouraged or feel inadequate if your friend does not laugh. Sometimes it is very hard to feel anything at all, even good things, but this will hopefully get better with time.
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    Watch for recurrences of depression symptoms. Just because your friend is feeling better does not mean that he or she is cured. Depression is episodic, which means that it often comes back. It is common for people who have depression to suffer from multiple bouts of depression over a lifetime. If your friend appears to be sinking back into depression, ask them what’s going on.
    • Say something like, “I noticed you seem very tired lately. When did you start feeling this way?”
    • Offer your help the same way that you did before and continue to encourage your friend as you have been.[13]
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    Take care of yourself. Helping a friend who is battling depression is hard work. To make sure that you do not suffer an emotional crisis, you will need to take very good care of yourself as well. Make sure that you set aside at least 30 minutes each day that is just for you. Use that time to focus on your needs, pamper yourself, or just to do something that you want to do. Make sure that whatever you do nurtures your physical, spiritual, and/or emotional needs. Some ways that you can use this time include:[14]
    • take a yoga class
    • take a bubble bath
    • read a book
    • journal about your thoughts and feelings
    • meditate or pray
    • go for a walk or bike ride
    • spend time with other people who can help support and encourage you as you help your friend with depression


  • When your friend is confiding in you with their feelings, don't start bringing up your own problems. This might make them feel like their depression isn't as important as your own problems and make things worse.
  • Everyday, ask them about how their day has been. Do not forget about them. Always talk to them about normal day-to-day life, and it will give them a chance to open up to you.
  • Be patient. Don't involve other peers unless the person is happy with you involving other people. And above all remind them that you will always be there for them. And if you say it, mean it.
  • Do things for your friend. Helping with work, distracting them or temporarily cheering them up, defending them from others...preventing and blocking everyday hassles does make a difference.
  • Stress, anxiety and a long period of significant low mood can cause or worsen depression. If your friend is prone to any of these conditions, they must attempt to overcome them through stress management, positive thinking and any other therapies or techniques that may be effective.
  • Remember that having a mental disorder still carries a stigma in our society. So, before you discuss the depressed person's condition with a third party, ask their permission to do so. You want to help them, not make them subject to the gossip mill.
  • Antidepressants and other forms of therapy such as counselling may actually make a person feel worse for a while. Medication can have many side-effects, and talking therapies may kick up problems and distressing feelings that have been long buried. It is totally normal for a person to find these things distressing; it should get easier as time goes by. Make sure your friend knows you are there for them if they need your support.
  • When choosing a therapist, doctor, or any professional, it is vital to find someone who has had experience and has a good knowledge of depression and all treatment options, as well as a personality your friend is comfortable with. It will help to interview people on their approach, and not be afraid to change therapists or doctors if they do not seem up to scratch. People with depression need to be helped by people who have the knowledge, expertise and especially, a real desire to help, rather than treat them like a number or not really listen (which can have damaging effects).
  • Do not try to make them feel better by reminding them how much better their lives are than other people's lives.
  • Recovery can be hard work and it may take a while. It probably won't happen overnight, or even in a few days or weeks, depending on how severe the depression is and the trigger factors causing it, if any. It is possible to experience "blips" or temporary relapses on the road to recovery; this is normal, so be reassuring when it happens, and remind them how far they have come.
  • If your friend is prescribed antidepressants, make sure they are aware that they can request other forms of therapy at the same time, for example counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy, or dialectic behavior therapy.
  • Once you find out your friend is depressed, try not to treat him or her, any different than you did before.
  • If the depressed person is someone that is close to you then make sure you regularly tell them how important they are to you and how much you care. It is also important to tell them everything positive that they have influenced in your life and others.


  • Never tell them that their problems are stupid or that there is nothing to worry about. They'll stop talking.
  • Self-harm could be the precursor to thoughts of suicide, so watch them closely and continue to provide gentle encouragement and reassurance. However, self-harming does not definitely mean that a person will become suicidal, it usually indicates that a person has significant problems with stress and/or anxiety and although it is possible that it is a cry for help, you should never, ever assume so.
  • Many suicide attempts can happen when people seem like they are feeling better, rather than when they seem severely depressed. When someone is at rock bottom they may not have enough energy to do anything; when their energy starts to return, that is when they may take action.
  • If you can, in a crisis, try to call a health care professional or suicide hotline before involving the police. There have been incidences where police intervention in cases of people in mental crisis have resulted in traumatization or death. When possible, involve someone you're sure has the expertise and training to deal specifically with mental health or psychiatric crises.[15][16][17]

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Categories: Helping People with Depression | Supporting Friends