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The Do's and Don'ts of Supporting a Depressed Friend

by J.D. of "Honest Mom"
Photo by: iStock

When you have a friend you think – or know – is depressed, it can be hard to know what to do and how to help. I’ve been the depressed one (obviously), but I’ve also been on the other side. Here are my tips on how to help and support a friend you think may be depressed…

DO acknowledge how your friend is feeling. It’s important to tell your friend that you understand that she’s going through a tough time. When depression hits me, I need people to realize that I’m not my normal self and need some compassion.

DON’T talk about the depression all the time. Distract your friend. Insist she join you for something active, or for an activity that isn’t conducive to long, drawn-out conversations. Yes, you should let her talk about her depression, but not for hours on end. That’s not good for her – or your friendship.

DON’T tell your friend to snap out of it. Depression can’t be snapped out of. Just as you can’t will away a tumor or a heart condition, your friend can’t just will away depression. It’s a medical condition that needs treatment. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

DO encourage your friend to get help. If she hasn’t said outright that she thinks she may be depressed but you suspect she is, tell her gently that you’ve noticed she’s not herself lately. Emphasize that depression isn’t something to be ashamed of – it’s a medical condition that can be helped, like any other medical condition. And encourage her to call her doctor.

Be sure to check on her and gently nudge her until she makes and attends that appointment. Here is a good article on how to talk to a loved one about her depression. And see further down for low-cost/free options for help.

DO expect your depressed friend to keep being your friend. It’s true that when I’m really down, I’m wallowing. Depression is selfish. But I make myself listen to my family and friends’ joys and issues. Not only does it help me focus on something else, but it keeps my loved ones from turning into a whole bunch of therapists.

DON’T simply ask how you can help. This may seem odd to say, but a depressed person often can’t think her way out of a paper bag. If someone asks me, How can I help? I either can’t think of anything or feel guilty asking for something specific. And I fear rejection – that’s a big part of depression.

DO offer a concrete way to help. When I’m feeling really bad my patience with my kids is short. I have one friend who has sensed when I am not doing great and offered to watch my kids for a couple of hours while I chill out.

Another idea: Show up with a lasagna or something that can be eaten for days. I’d never ask you to cook for me – but if I am having a really awful time, food is so appreciated!

DO act if you think your friend’s depression is getting worse. Reach out to your friend’s spouse, parents, or whomever is closest to her if you sense her depression is getting worse or if she is not getting help at all. Your friend might be hiding her depression from her loved ones out of shame or pride. Those closest to her may be able to convince her to get help once they know what’s going on.

DON’T let your friend think she can’t afford help. The lacking aspects of our mental health care have been in the news a lot. But there are free or low-cost ways to obtain help:

DO remind your friend that depression lies. The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson famously said this, and it’s so very true. “Depression can make you think you are a worthless, horrible, awful person who doesn’t deserve help. And nothing could be further from the truth.”

DO show your friend she’s not alone. In addition to pointing her to The Bloggess’ site, have her check out Allie Brosch at Hyperbole and a Half. She wrote the best posts on depression that I’ve ever seen here and here. And of course I blog about it here – a lot – on Honest Mom. Just read through the comments on some of the posts and you’ll see there are so many everyday women out there who manage depression.

Those of you who manage depression, what would you add? Those of you who have friends with depression, would you add anything?

JD Bailey is an author, blogger, and the creator of HonestMom.com, where she writes about raising her young daughters, being a working mom, and managing her depression. With real candor and a good dose of humor, JD blogs to connect with other moms and create a space for women to both vent and laugh. When she’s not writing or mom-ing, you can find JD on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+.

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