Your friend decides to hang back and avoid going out with people again, insisting that wearing sweatpants in bed is better than seeing the people she adores. You’ve suspected for months, or maybe you both already knew: She is struggling with depression. But what can you do to help?
I asked myself that question almost daily in college. Trying to help somebody cope with depression can feel as confusing and helpless as coping with it yourself. I can count on my fingers the friends, acquaintances, and family members throughout my life that haven’t faced depression in some way. It’s all too common in our society.
Across America, one in four adults under the age of 24 experiences depression at least once. That’s an impressively large number of young people walking around with this debilitating weight on their shoulders. And if your friend group consists of more than four, the likelihood that multiple friends of yours are suffering is even greater. But there are some simple ways to support them.
Here are small steps to take that will make a big impact on your friend’s health and happiness.
The best place to start with understanding what your friend is going through is to just listen. Everybody is different and every instance of depressive symptoms is unique. Besides, good friends always listen.
Making sure your friend has somebody loyal who cares about their situation will teach them that their thoughts and feelings matter. Living with a mental disorder is often difficult to explain to others. It’s important you keep an open mind to hear what your friend is saying without placing blame or forcing your own feelings onto them.
There is plenty of legitimate information to read up on depression and its accompanying symptoms and disorders. No matter the severity or variety of symptoms you notice, take some time to educate yourself so you are more aware of her needs and experiences.
Resources like the National Institute of Mental Health, WebMD, and To Write Love On Her Arms can offer better guidance for specific symptoms, treatments, and insight into what others are going through. She may not be browsing for answers, but you certainly can read up for when she reaches out for help.
3. Say Something
This is the tough one. Without surprising her or ostracizing her, it’s okay to have a conversation on her terms about how she’s doing. Here’s where you can share how much you care about her and how you’ve been listening and learning a bit to help her feel better.
If you’re scared about what you’re learning about her, it’s okay to speak up to another trusted friend for advice. I’ve been concerned past the point of a conversation, which led me to saying something to her family, friends, and a university resident director. Teachers, leaders you trust, and family friends can all create a strong support system if that’s what she needs. Sometimes telling those close to her can make all the difference. Keeping secrets isn’t the same as keeping her safe.
4. Be Okay With It
Be a friend and stay a friend. There’s no magic cure or quick fix. No matter her reaction when you brought up your concerns earlier, keep hanging out with her and living life the way you normally would. You don’t need to become an on-call nurse, but she may need a little extra nudge every now and then.
It’s okay to encourage her to come out with friends, go out and play, get to class or work on time, or ensure she’s eating regularly. Everyone knows that the mind and body are intertwined. By helping her body stay healthy and active, you’re helping her mind do the same.
The important thing is that you include her in your life along with everybody else you care about. If she knows she’s depressed, she doesn’t need a pity friend. She just needs you.
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