Has a friend of yours been acting differently? Are you worried something is wrong but you’re not sure how to bring it up? This article will teach you the basics of how to help a friend who has, or may have, depression.
Whether you have a real-life scenario to apply this to, or simply want to make sure you’re ready when the time comes, read on to find out more!
What is depression?
Generally speaking, depression is a persistent lowering of someone’s mood, which can last from months to years.
Depression is different from simply feeling down or sad about a bad grade, or even about a major event, such as a family member passing away. However, depression can be (though is not always) triggered by real life traumatic events.
A person has depression if they experience feelings of melancholy, lack of motivation over an extended period of time to the extent in which involvement in normal daily life becomes extremely difficult or impossible.
The most common form of depression is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), where someone experiences most or all of the main symptoms of depression mentioned in the following section.
Some other common kinds of depressive disorders include:
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression, but these coincide with changes in the seasons (normally over winter months, but some people can experience it in summer).
- Bipolar disorder: A person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between.
How can you tell if your friend has depression?
There are many warning signs of depression, but they can be hard to detect in another person.
Annette Haggerty, a school psychologist at the Department of Education and Training NSW, says that the most noticeable symptoms include a person’s withdrawal from normal behaviours and activities. It is also characterised by a loss of pleasure in almost everything.
These changes include avoiding school settings, stopping sports or other extra-curricular, and withdrawing from friendships. People with depression often seek isolation.
Other warning signs you can look for include changes in your friend’s sleeping and/or eating patterns (eating more or less), and consistently negative points of view about situations.
When should you step in?
It is best to step in as early as possible if you notice one of your friends has all the warning signs of depression. Oftentimes, people with depression will exhibit withdrawal from friendships when really they are calling out for help.
What should you do?
Depending on your abilities and age, these are some more ways you may be able to help a friend with depression:
#1: Perform everyday tasks for them
People with depression will often neglect everyday needs and tasks. You can help them out with simple things such as assisting them with their homework, or getting class notes for them if they are absent from school.
It could also include making sure they don’t skip meals, or cleaning their room for them. Only do this if it is in your capacity and time, of course!
#2: Keeping your friend in the loop with others
Depression causes withdrawal from social circles, creating and exacerbating feelings of isolation, exclusion and the sense that one is unliked by their friend circle.
You may help your depressed friend stay in the loop in your social circles by extending invitations to them, and encouraging them to come out and socialise. However, it’s important not to overly pressure them or guilt them if they are not feeling up to it.
#3: Helping your friend seek professional or adult help if they aren’t already
This may include informing their parents, or chatting to a school counsellor if they feel comfortable. You may also support them by asking if they want someone to come with them to the doctors (“Do you want me to come with you?”).
Seeking professional mental health help can be daunting, especially if it’s their first time.
#4: Recommending resources to help your friend
These include hotlines, for when they feel particularly ‘flat’ or are having really negative thoughts, like Lifeline (13 11 14) as well as Headspace’s online 24-hour chat and telephone support, which provides free counselling to young people aged 12-25 and their families.
When should I seek help from someone else?
It is important to support your friends with depression, but it’s important to remember there is a limit to your abilities. You are not expected to be an expert.
Annette says that it is always best to seek professional medical help and advice for someone with depression.
You may also inform the parents of your depressed friend if you are concerned about their safety, however it’s important you tell them beforehand at least. Annette says you may say something like: “I’m so concerned about you, I’m going to let your mum know.”
How do you take care of yourself while helping a friend with depression?
“You have to set healthy boundaries for yourself,” says Annette. While it’s important to be there for your friend, you must also take care of yourself.
Helping someone with depression is not a one person task but a commitment of many different people in a depressed person’s life. Some ways you can still help your friend with depression while setting healthy boundaries include:
- Stating the times you are available to be with them/help them
- Getting other close, trusted friends to also check-in with your unwell friend
- Being aware of your own mental health and seeking professional help if you feel depressed, anxious or exhausted
How can you be better informed to help your depressed friend?
Fortunately, there are many online resources that can help you inform yourself about depression as a mental illness. A list of websites can be found below:
Just remember, when you help a friend who has depression, you also need to look out for your own mental health needs.
Zara Zadro is a Content Writer for Art of Smart and a current undergraduate student at the University of Sydney. She studies a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies majoring in Media & Communications and English. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and discovering new parts of Sydney. She has also written for the student publications Honi Soit and Vertigo. After she graduates, Zara hopes to do a Masters in creative writing and live overseas, which she cannot wait for!