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Supporting a Friend With Depression: Do's and Don'ts

By: Diana F.

Supporting a Friend with depression

More than 16 percent of Americans (as many as 35 million people) suffer from severe depression, says the National Comorbidity Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Most people who suffer from depression eventually lose the majority of their friends. People don't know what to say to someone who is depressed, they feel awkward, and the relationship deteriorates. Do you have a friend who suffers from depression? Read these guidelines to avoid losing your friendship.

Do's:

1. Ask your friend about what he wants. Does he prefer you calling him sometimes or should you wait till he calls you, or perhaps he rather exchanges email or prefers to meet at home. It will make your friend feel welcome to contact you whenever he wants and not feel pressed to do anything he doesn't want to do.

2. Ask 'How are you?'. Most people are afraid to ask this question because the answer might be negative. Just listen to the answer objectively, without trying to bend it into something more positive.

3. Ask 'What did you do today?'. Again some people may be afraid to ask this because the answer might not be as cheerful as they want it to be. Don't judge what your friend has to say. Just listen.

4. Ask about the positive and the negative events of the week. Listen to his complaints about negative things, again without trying to bend it into something more positive. Also ask if there were any positive events during the week. Even if there are positive things, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that it must mean that he's 'getting better'.

5. Talk about what is going on in your own life. Talk calmly about events in your own life: don't talk too fast or too emotionally.

6. Do something together in silence. Right now, your friend is probably getting plenty of well-intended but silly advice that is just making him feel tired. Go for a walk together or watch TV, just don't talk.

7. Offer to do something together to help him out. Don't be specific: no 'let's do the dishes together' or 'let me help you clean the mess in your living room'. Instead, ask something along the lines of 'Is there something that is troubling you and I can help with by coming over?' Also make clear that you won't stay long.

Don'ts:

1. Treat your friend's depression like a cold. Don't say 'I hope you're doing better today', as if his depression is just a temporary sickness. Just ask how he is doing without judging what he has to say.

2. Give (silly) advice. When you're depressed, everyone seems to have an opinion about you. Saying something like 'What I do when I'm not feeling great, is ...' is arrogant and nonsensical: you're drawing the attention to yourself instead of listening to your friend. Also things like 'Try to have a good night's sleep' (often physically impossible for people who suffer from depression), 'Why are you feeling so depressed?' (how would he know?) or 'You should eat healthier' (he doesn't want to make his depression worse, so he's most probably eating healthy already) aren't very helpful.

3. Say you're worried about him. He doesn't need to feel guilty about worrying friends.

4. Analyze. If you analyze your friend's behavior, make suggestions or try to talk him out of his depression, you're probably only making him feel tired and worse, more depressed.

5. Say 'You're always welcome to come over to my house.' Something as simple as visiting a friend can be a huge obstacle for people who suffer from depression: they'll have to wear the correct clothes, go outside, use transportation, make conversation, etc. Also offering your friend to stay at your home for a few weeks isn't helping him much: he needs freedom and privacy. You can however ask him 'Where would you like to stay this week?' -- that way the choice is his and he won't feel any pressure.

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