Supporting a Friend Who Has Depression: Best Tips & Resources

Depression is a serious disorder that, unfortunately, is very common among students. Research shows that in 2022, the number of American students diagnosed with depression reached 33%. Another sad fact is that, while the condition is treatable, not all affected people seek professional psychological support.

If you have a depressed friend or a loved one, you may want to help them get better and convince them to go to therapy. Well, we are here to tell you that your support is valuable and may be instrumental in their recovery!

This article by Psychology Writing team will tell you how to help a friend with depression. It contains essential information, handy tips, and plenty of resources for you to check out.

🔍 Understanding Your Friend’s Depression

If you’ve never had to deal with depression, you may have a hard time understanding what exactly your friend is going through. Let’s start with the basics.

Depression is a severe psychological disorder that negatively affects your mood and disrupts your ability to function. Depression leads to a loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy. Affected people may feel persistent sadness and anxiety, a dramatic decrease in motivation and inspiration, and an unwillingness to live to the fullest.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about depression that contribute to the stigma surrounding it. Here are the key facts you should know:

The picture shows the key facts about depression.

Depression Types

When you deal with depression, it’s essential to know what type it is. Each one has different causes and symptoms:

  • Clinical depression is a severe mental disorder with intense symptoms lasting for two or more weeks. Clinical depression interferes with everyday life and causes severe problems to psychological and physical health.
  • Bipolar depression is associated with dramatic mood swings. People with bipolar disorder constantly move from low to high phases. During the low periods, they are unmotivated to function normally, while the high periods lead to an over-energetic lifestyle.
  • Dysthymia is a slighter form of depression compared to other types. However, this is a long-lasting condition with a duration of two years or longer.
  • Postpartum depression is a condition that some people face after giving birth. It is often confused with “baby blues.” But there is an important distinction:
    • “Baby blues” is a short-term condition that causes minor sadness and mood swings.
    • In contrast, postpartum depression is a more serious long-lasting disorder that leads to insomnia, restlessness, excessive crying, anger, and other severe symptoms.
  • Seasonal depression (or seasonal affective disorder) is caused by a lack of sunlight. It usually lasts from the late fall or winter to spring or summer. People with seasonal depression may experience problems with sleep, concentration, and loss of appetite and energy.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Have you noticed changes in your friend’s mood, appearance, or behavior? Keep an eye on them to understand if they are experiencing the symptoms of depression.

The most common signs of depression are:

🙅 Changes in behavior
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol overconsumption
  • Loss of productivity
  • Permanent tiredness
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Refusal to participate in favorite activities
  • 😨 Changes in mood
  • Permanent sadness and hopelessness
  • Anger, aggressiveness, irritability
  • Inability to deal with everyday stress factors
  • Overreaction to standard situations
  • 👀 Changes in appearance
  • Tired look (i.e., red eyes, pale skin, red circles under the eyes)
  • Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
  • Untidiness (dirty clothes, messy hair)
  • Besides changes in behavior, mood, and appearance, you may notice some verbal signs indicating depression:

    • Pay attention to what your friend is saying to you and others. If you hear phrases like “I’m worthless,” “I wish I didn’t wake up today,” or “my life is a mess,” that’s a red flag.
    • Also, keep track of what your friend is posting on social media. If you notice dark poetry, disturbing videos, songs, or suspicious hashtags (i.e., #igiveup, #imworthless, #imdone), your friend may be experiencing mental struggles.

    Causes of Depression in Students

    Student life can be tough. When students are overwhelmed with stress, they can become emotionally vulnerable. As a result, they may experience psychological struggles.

    The picture lists the main causes of depression in students.

    Here are the most common causes of depression in students:

    😢 Previous traumatic experienceLoss of a loved one, severe physical or psychological abuse, or extensive stress can increase the risk of depression.
    🎓 Radical life changesWhen life changes dramatically, people experience stress. For students, transitioning from school to college is a challenging process. Sometimes it can trigger depression or a depressive episode.
    💔 Breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriendBreakups are always painful. It’s no surprise that unrequited love may lead to depression in students. As a result, they may feel lonely, discouraged, and lose enjoyment in life.
    📚 Academic and social pressureNavigating study, a social life, and work can be extremely overwhelming. Juggling too much often leads to burnout and a complete loss of motivation.
    🌎 Environmental stressExternal factors also influence some students. For example, they may be too worried about climate change, pandemics, wars, and social injustice in the world.
    🧬 GeneticsSometimes, genes come into play. Having a close relative with depression can make one more susceptible to developing this condition. Still, it doesn’t have to be the case.
    🧠 Brain chemicals imbalanceResearch shows that low levels of certain neurotransmitters may cause depression. Antidepressant medication helps restore chemical balance in one’s brain. However, scientists think that it also may not be the case.
    🏠 LonelinessWhen students move to another city or abroad to study, miles away from their best friends, they may start experiencing loneliness and depression. Here is where the support of friends is essential. If you notice that your long-distance friend is exhibiting signs of a mental disorder, make sure to take every possible step to support them.

    ️🌧️ Why Depression Can Scare Friends Away

    Depressed people may notice that their friends are withdrawing from them. Here are some of the reasons why this happens:

    • People don’t want to be surrounded by someone struggling with depression because they are afraid they, too, might become depressed.
    • People find it difficult to empathize. They don’t know how to support someone with depression, so they prefer to keep their distance instead.
    • People’s attempts to support a depressed friend feel useless. It seems that nothing helps, so they give up and drift apart from their friend.
    • Depressed people often push their loved ones away. This can be very frustrating, especially if you don’t know the reason for such coldness.

    🤝 Why Support is Important for Recovery

    Even though people with depression can alienate those around them, it is essential to support them until they fully recover. Don’t believe us? Well, we’ve got research to prove it:

    The recent study published by Electron Physician journal shows that stress levels for people who receive support from their friends and loved ones are lower than for those who don’t: those with support had stress levels of 5 out of 10 compared to people without assistance who had average stress levels of 6.3 out of 10. Help from friends, family, or support groups does wonders for mental health!

    The picture describes the importance of support in recovery from depression.

    There are two main types of social support that you can provide to your depressed friend:

    ❤️ Emotional support 🧹 Practical support
    This includes offering a depressed person empathy and care through compassionate listening and conversations. Emotional support helps a person understand that they are not alone and not worthless.This involves helping your friend with practical things. Depression often leads to a loss of motivation. As a result, a person may neglect their day-to-day tasks. You might help your friend complete their daily routine.

    🗨️ Talking about Depression

    Talking about depression is hard. Some people do not know what to tell someone who is depressed. Others are afraid to say too much and only make things worse.

    Depressed people themselves may also keep quiet in an attempt to hide what is going on. Talking or just listening is extremely important for people with this condition, and we hope our tips will help you with this crucial step.

    Starting the Conversation

    Initiating a conversation about depression is the hardest step. A good strategy is to use statements with “I” instead of “you.” Here are some effective conversation starters you may use:

    • “I’ve noticed some changes in your behavior recently.”
    • “I’m concerned about your mental state.”
    • “I just wanted to check if you are feeling okay.”

    Once you’ve started the conversation, you can ask the following questions:

    • “When did you notice the changes in your mood?”
    • “What can I do to help you?”
    • “Would you mind sharing your feelings with me?”
    • “Have you considered getting professional help?”
    The picture enumerates what to say and not to say to a depressed friend.

    What to Say

    Once you have the conversation going, it’s essential to keep selecting appropriate words. Remember that depression makes one very sensitive, and you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings. Here are some nice things you can say to them:

    • Tell them you’re there for them.
      Depression often leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Prove your friend wrong! Tell them that you are always near and ready to support them.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “You are not alone; I’ll help you get through this tough period.”
    • Say that you care
      When it feels like the entire world has turned away from you, hearing someone say “I care” can help change things for the better. You don’t need to be eloquent: share simple, sincere words of support with your friend. A gentle hug would also strengthen the effect.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “I care about you and your feelings.”
    • Tell them that they matter.
      Don’t let your friend feel worthless. Let them know that you are happy to have them in your life. You can also emphasize your friend’s value to their family.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “You are important to me. Your parents can’t imagine their life without you.”
    • Remind them that it’s okay to feel this way.
      Depressed people often experience guilt for the way they feel. They worry about being a burden to their family and loved ones. But in reality, it’s not their fault that depression has affected them. Be empathic and assure them that they have no reason to feel guilty.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “You are not a burden to anyone; depression is not your fault! I am here to support you.”
    • Tell them there is hope.
      Prove to your friend that depression, like most other illnesses, is treatable. With proper therapy and support from you, they will recover!
      ✅ Phrase to use: “You will get better, believe me. I will do my best to support you along the way.”
    • Ask them whether they want to talk.
      Sometimes, a sincere conversation is the best medicine for a depressed friend. Allow them to express their feelings to you. Listen to your friend carefully without interruptions.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “Wanna talk? I am ready to listen.”
    • Ask how you can help.
      Ask if you can do anything specific for your friend. They may be reluctant to ask you outright, so it would be better if you bring it up yourself.
      ✅ Phrase to use: “Is there anything specific I can do for you? I could help you with everyday tasks or anything else you might need.”

    What Not to Say

    Words can heal, but they can also hurt. To ensure that you don’t offend your friend, check out this list of things that are definitely not worth mentioning.

    What you shouldn’t do Why is it bad?Phrases to avoid
    ❌ Don’t deny or minimize their feelings.Even if you don’t fully understand the reason for your friend’s sadness, you should never underestimate their feelings. It will only make things worse.“You are too worried about this.”
    “You are overthinking things.”
    “Take it easy.”
    ❌ Don’t tell them they’re not trying hard enough.Dealing with depression is a herculean task. So, even if it seems like your friend is not being proactive in their recovery, don’t be discouraging.“You don’t put in enough effort.”
    “You should try harder!”
    ❌ Don’t put the blame on them.It’s not your friend’s fault that depression came into their life, and blaming them for that is not helpful.“It’s all in your head.”
    “You are overreacting.”
    “You can prevent depression.”
    ❌ Don’t accuse them of being selfish.Depressed people often concentrate on themselves. But it doesn’t make them selfish. They still care about others.“You are not the only one with problems.”
    “Stop being selfish.”

    🔝 Helping Someone with Depression: 9 Best Tips

    Supporting a person battling with depression is a real challenge. We know how hard it is to provide the best possible help without sacrificing your own mental well-being. But there is a way! Here are the most actionable tips for assisting your friend on their way to recovery:

    The picture enumerates the top 9 tips for helping a depressed friend.
    1. Educate yourselfFirst and foremost: do your research. If you don’t have personal experience with depression and you can’t relate, don’t pretend to be an expert. Instead, do your best to understand what’s happening to your friend.
    2. Help them with choresPractical help is precious to a depressed person. You may assist them with buying groceries, cleaning their apartment, and ensuring they visit a therapist regularly. Yet, we don’t recommend you do everything for them. Encourage them to stick to their daily routine. It will help them get back to normal life
    3. Create a supportive environmentProve to your friend that you are always by their side. Be kind and sincere. Creating the right atmosphere is crucial: it will help your friend to put their trust in you.
    4. Act as soon as possibleDepressive disorders are best healed if they are detected at an early stage. Once you notice changes in your friend’s behavior, talk to them as soon as possible. This may prevent the development of severe symptoms and lead to a quicker recovery.
    5. Be kind and patient You will need lots of patience to get your friend back on track. Recovery takes time, and they may become frustrated and angry with you along the way. Don’t let it discourage you: stay kind and supportive.
    6. Suggest shared physical activities  Suggest that you grab a coffee or go for a walk outside. Alternatively, you may ask if they want to go cycling, jogging, or dancing with you. An active lifestyle is known to provoke positive emotions!
    7. Keep in touch  Remain in contact with your depressed friend on a daily basis. Ask them about their well-being, offer assistance, and just be there for them. They will feel less lonely if you stay in touch with them.
    8. Be a compassionate listener When it comes to depression, listening may be even more important than talking. If your friend needs to share their feelings with someone, let them do it! Listen carefully without interrupting or judging them.
    9. Encourage them to get professional help Of course, your support is valuable, but you are not a psychology expert. Depression is treated best with professional help

    Wondering how to motivate someone with depression to go to therapy? We’ve got the answer below!

    ❤️‍🩹 Encouraging Your Friend to Get Help

    Deciding to get professional support is the most significant step on the road to recovery. People with depression often refuse to go to a psychologist or a therapist. If your friend is refusing care, you need to gently encourage them to give it a try:

    • Prove that therapy is effective in treating depression.
    • Show them there’s nothing shameful about it.
    • Convince them that they have a real problem that needs treatment.

    Once they agree, you can help them find a specialist, accompany them to appointments, and help track their progress. Whenever they get one step closer to recovery, celebrate it together in a friendly atmosphere.

    🖥️ Where to Get Help: Top 10 Options

    Is someone close to you struggling with depression? If so, make sure to check out this list of resources. It will help you find the right professional and learn more about the condition and its treatment:

    1. Project Air
      Project Air is an extensive database that contains factsheets, videos, guidelines, and scientific work on mental health. Visit their website to find lots of crucial information and valuable insights on the treatment of depression.
    2. National Alliance on Mental Illness
      NAMI is a psychological service that provides professional support 24/7 through various channels: online chat, email, and helpline. You can also find here answers to mental health-related questions and practical tips. The resources on this website contain information to address various psychological needs and concerns.
    3. Anxiety & Depression Association of America
      This website connects you to a professional who will help you overcome depression, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and related disorders. You will find psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and other mental health professionals here.
    4. Psychiatry.org
      This unique resource helps you find a psychiatrist in your area. All you need to do is provide details on your location, and the system will find suitable specialists. The psychiatrists on this platform specialize in treating mental illness and substance abuse disorders. They all gained their qualification at medical institutions and have at least three years of psychiatry experience.
    5. APA’s Psychologist Locator
      APA’s Psychologist locator is a search tool that connects you with a mental health professional in your city or state. The platform helps you find an expert in virtually any practice area, including depression. You can refine the search by specifying preferred treatment methods, the provider’s gender identity, and various specializations.
    6. Psychology Today
      This resource has the latest news and countless articles on psychology meant for a wide audience of readers. It also helps you find a psychiatrist or psychologist.
    7. Faithful Counseling
      This online platform is the perfect option if your friend is religious. It offers mental health therapy from a Biblical perspective. Options include video sessions, phone calls, and seminars on various topics.
    8. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
      This organization is all about cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on reshaping the thoughts and behaviors of patients. This therapy is highly effective for treating depression and other mental disorders. You can search through the directory of local clinicians and find a CBT therapist for you.
    9. MentalHealth.gov
      This is an emergency service that provides instant psychological help. If you notice that someone is attempting to hurt themselves, reach out to MentalHealth.gov immediately!

    Warning signs can include:

    • Finding a way to kill oneself.
    • Talking about the desire to die.
    • Extreme mood swings.
    • Talking about being a burden to others.
    • Demonstrating an unwillingness to live.

    If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms, call 988!

    1. SAMHSA’s National Helpline
      SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free service that works round the clock, 365 days a year. It offers urgent psychological support to individuals suffering from mental disorders and substance abuse.

    These resources will help you guide your depressed friend through the recovery process. But in the initial stage, we recommend visiting the primary care doctor to get some suggestions on further therapy.

    🎁 Bonus: What to Do for Yourself

    Caring for your friends is important, but don’t forget about yourself! After all, being too involved in your friend’s emotional struggles may result in the deterioration of your own mental state. Here are some simple suggestions that will help you maintain your psychological well-being:

    The picture shows what to do for yourself while supporting a depressed friend.
    ⚖️ Track your mood and ensure it’s not getting declining.  
    💤  Get plenty of rest for your mind and body.  
    🎉  Don’t sacrifice the things you enjoy, and always try to find time for yourself. 
    ⌛  Set limits: for example, don’t answer phone calls in the middle of the night.  
    😊  While offering emotional support to your friend, don’t forget to get some company for yourself. Talk to someone you trust regularly. 

    And now you’re all set to start helping your friend on their way to recovery.

    Thank you for visiting our website! We hope our tips will be helpful for you. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones!

    🔗 References

    1. Depression: Types, Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment: Cleveland Clinic
    2. Depression: World Health Organization
    3. Signs Your Friend Might Be Struggling Emotionally: The Jed Foundation
    4. Why Depression Hits Different in College: Best Colleges
    5. The Importance of Having a Support System: Mental Health First Aid
    6. 7 Ways to Support a Depressed Friend: Forbes
    7. 6 Ways to Help a Friend with Depression or Anxiety: Reach Out
    8. Social Support and Protection from Depression: Systematic Review of Current Findings in Western Countries: Cambridge University Press
    9. What Causes Depression: Harvard Health
    10. The Treatment of Depression—Searching for New Ideas: FrontiersIn
    11. Depression: Why to Talk?: National Institute of Health
    12. The Role of Sources of Social Support on Depression and Quality of Life for University Students: Taylor & Francis Online