According to a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 13.3% or 3.2 million adolescents from ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode. Regarding adults, those aged 18 to 25 hold the highest prevalence of major depressive episodes, sitting at 13.1%.
Worried about your friend?
When a friend is feeling down for a long period of time or is behaving in an unusual way, it can be hard to know what you can do for them.
If your friend has mentioned suicide, it’s important you tell someone who can help so that your friend can remain safe. It may seem like a betrayal of your friend’s trust, but if they were to complete suicide, you would’ve felt better in the long-run had you decided to tell someone. Check out the When a Friend Is Thinking of Suicide article for more info.
Suggestions for Helping
Like other illnesses, everyone’s experience of depression is different. It’s important to remember that helping someone who is not ready to recognize they need help may be difficult, and the decision and responsibility for them to get help is ultimately theirs. However, there are some things you can do that may help you to help your friend who is feeling depressed:
Offer your support. It can be scary when someone realizes they need help. Let your friend know you’re worried about them, and that you’re there to listen without judging them.
If your friend talks to you about how they’re feeling, it might help if you acknowledge that they’re sad and that things might seem hard, while at the same time reminding them how much you appreciate and love them. Validate their feelings and experiences and practice deep listening.
If you are having difficulty speaking about it with your friend, you might start with sentences such as ”I’ve noticed you’ve seemed a bit down,” or “Lately, I’ve noticed you haven’t been interested in hanging out with your friends or enjoying things like you used to. What’s going on?” This can invite them to share their feelings with you.
Choosing when to talk. Timing can be an important part of talking to someone about sensitive stuff. If possible, try to choose a time when you are both open to talking about serious subjects. Avoid talking with them during an argument or if they are upset—you may end up getting a bad reaction where they choose to distance and isolate themselves further.
Don’t ask them to cheer up or forget about it. When people are sad, our first reaction may be to tell them to cheer up or forget about it because everything will be fine. If someone is depressed, this may be impossible.
Asking someone to cheer up may appear as if you are not taking their feelings seriously and have a negative effect. It’s important to know that depression isn’t something someone can just snap out of. It is serious and takes a toll on the person physically, mentally and emotionally. Just as you wouldn’t say to a cancer patient to get over it already, the same can be said about someone with depression. It’s an illness, not a choice.
Get informed. Finding out more about depression might help you better understand the reasons for the reactions you might receive and what your friend might be going through. Check out our article on Depression for more information.
Encourage Them to Get Professional Support
If your friend is depressed, it is important that they seek help. Your local doctor is a good first step. Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers, are trained in assisting young people with mental health difficulties and could also be helpful.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you might offer to go with your friend when they speak to someone about how they are feeling. Even walking with them to the school counselor’s office might be the support they need.
Give it time. It might take time for your friend to accept help, either from you or someone else, and that’s okay. They are walking their own path and will seek out help in their own time. It might also take some time to find a treatment that works best for them. Just try to support their decisions and be the best friend you can be to that person.
Take Care of Yourself
When you are worried about a friend you might feel stressed or overwhelmed and forget to look after yourself. It is important that you take care of how you are feeling. Speak to someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or counselor. Having time away from your friend can be an important way to help you relax. Make sure you spend some time doing what you enjoy. You may want to play a sport, hang out with other friends, listen to music, or go for a walk. Practicing self-care can allow you to take care of your own mental health, while not losing compassion or empathy for your friend.
You Are Not Responsible for Your Friend
It’s also important to remember that even though you can offer support, you are not responsible for the actions or behaviors of your friend. If they aren’t willing to help themselves, it is not your fault. There is only so much you can do for a person. The real work has to be done by them.
Concerned your friend might be suicidal?
If you are concerned that your friend is suicidal, your first action should be to ask the question outright. If you think they’re suicidal, ask them “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” This tactic cuts right to the chase to know if this person is at risk or not. It might seem like an abrupt or intrusive question, but it shows you’re not afraid to have difficult conversations and that you’re concerned for them. Sometimes, being the one to ask the question can take a huge weight off the other person’s shoulders. Depression can make it very hard to have conversations, let alone ask for help.
If they would like to talk to someone outside of their situation, Lines for Life has a Suicide LifeLine that can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, as well as a YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491. They are staffed by highly trained volunteers that can offer support and assistance to you or your friend. They are available 24/7/365 and ready to help. If you’d like more resources for your friend, check out our crisis helpline directory. If you’re looking for more information on signs that your friend may be suicidal, check out our article on Suicide Warning Signs or nineoutoften.org.
Do you struggle with depression? What advice do you have for your friends? Share in the comments below!