Are you struggling with how to help a depressed friend? If so, you are not alone. Depression affects more than 3 million teenagers each year, and most of them have friends like you who are trying to find ways to help.
Because you are a close friend, you are in a unique position to observe changes in mood and behavior, to be supportive and to help direct your friend to appropriate resources. However, it is important to remember that you are not a doctor and should not attempt to diagnose or treat anyone you think may be struggling with depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Depression is described as having a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure that lasts for more than two weeks and interferes with the ability to engage in everyday life functions. Depression can be mild (lasting a short period of time), chronic (persisting for two or more years) or major (a depressed mood in addition to at least four other symptoms that illustrate a change in functioning, such as problems with energy, sleeping, eating, concentration and self-image). Have you observed changes in your friend’s behavior that could be related to any of these signs or symptoms?
Signs of depression vary and can include persistent:
- Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness and pessimism
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Decreased energy
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Restlessness and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Severe changes in appetite
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How to Help a Depressed Friend
If you believe your friend may be suffering from depression, you can help them by following some simple tips.
- Do not ignore it. Depression can be a serious issue and often does not just “go away.” It is important to try to get your friend to talk with their parents or an appropriate adult or doctor about their symptoms.
- Be supportive. Let your friend know that you are there for them and will support them, while also encouraging them to seek professional help for their difficulties. Be patient and do not try to get them to just “snap out of it.” Depression is difficult to deal with and requires medical or psychological treatment in order to get better. Depression cannot just be overcome with a “strong will.”
- Get appropriate help. Many organizations can provide assistance to teens struggling with depression, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is a 24-hour, toll-free confidential service designed to help people in need. You can reach them by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If access to healthcare is an issue, low- or no-cost resources can be found at https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/index.html.
- Be attentive. Pay attention to whether signs and symptoms appear to be worsening, and for signs of suicidal ideation. If it appears your friend may be contemplating suicide, take it very seriously and talk to a responsible adult.
- Be active together. Although your friend may not want to participate, continue to invite him or her to join you in physical activities that are easy to complete, will get them moving and help stimulate endorphins, which are the chemicals released by the brain that make a person feel good. While not a “cure,” physical exercise has been shown to help people with depression feel better.
Figuring out how to help a depressed friend can be a difficult task. Depression is a serious illness and requires a variety of interventions to achieve the best results. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friend about how they are feeling. With proper treatment, people suffering from depression can recover and rediscover joy and meaning in life.