How to help a depressed friend
It is not easy to care for a depressed friend, but a little patience and compassion go a long way! Someone with depression needs to know that their friend will not abandon them to this black cloud existence.
Being honest with yourself about changes in mood or the intensity of negative feelings as they occur will help you identify possible sources of depression or stress. You should examine your feelings and try to determine what is troubling you - relationships with family or friends, financial responsibilities, and so forth. Discussing problems with the people involved or with an understanding friend can sometimes bring about a resolution before a critical stage of stress is reached. Even mild depression should be dealt with if it interferes with your effectiveness. You might also try to:
- Change your normal routine by taking a break for a favourite activity or something new -- even if you don't feel like it
- Exercise to work off tension, improve digestion, help you relax, and perhaps improve your ability to sleep
- Avoid known stresses
- Avoid making long-term commitments, decisions, or changes that make you feel trapped or confined -- it is better to put them off until you feel you are better able to cope
- See a physician/doctor, especially if physical complaints persist.
Helping a Depressed Friend
Since severely depressed individuals can be very withdrawn, lethargic, self-ruminating, and possibly suicidal, a concerned friend can provide a valuable and possibly life-saving service. As everyday tasks may seem overwhelming to a person with depression, you can help by doing something as simple as washing the dishes. It would take a load of their mind, stop them feeling guilty for having such a mess in the house and demonstrate that you care. Talking candidly with your friend may help them sort out in their mind what is causing them stress.
As you talk with your friend:
- Do not try to "cheer them up." You will probably make them feel worse!
- Do not criticise or shame them, as feelings of depression cannot be helped.
- Do not sympathise and claim that you feel the same way as he or she does UNLESS you have been diagnised by a doctor as having depression too.
- Try not to get angry with the depressed individual.
Your primary objective is to let your friend know you are concerned and willing to help.
One of the things you can do for your friend is to pray for them, they need it and may well be unable to do it themselves. When the depression lifts, their spiritual life may be in rags. Help will be needed to sew the rags back together. You may need to go right back to basics to rebuild their faith.
Bear in mind that caring for a depressed friend can be wearing and tiring. This is not their fault, but a function of their illness. Be sure to also look after YOURSELF, spend time with other non-depressed people to recharge your batteries.
When Professional Help is Necessary
Depression is treatable and needless suffering of those who experience it can be alleviated. A mental health professional should be consulted when an individual experiences any of the following circumstances:
- When pain or problems outweigh pleasures much of the time;
- When symptoms are so severe and persistent that day-to-day functioning is impaired; and/or
- When stress seems so overwhelming that suicide seems to be a viable option.
Qualified mental health professionals can help identify the causes and sources of depression and can help the depressed person find ways to overcome them.