If you notice that a friend or family member is acting a little differently than normal and you’re worried they might be depressed, it can be really difficult to know what to do. Firstly, it’s important to note that this person is lucky to have a friend who is caring enough to notice. This article will go through some of the signs of depression so that you know how to spot it. Then, we’ll take you through what we believe are the three most important things when it comes to knowing what to do if you think your friend is depressed.
Firstly, here’s how to spot the signs
Not everyone’s experience of depression is the same and the symptoms can display themselves differently in all of us. So, recognising the signs or symptoms of depression isn’t easily done.
The key thing to look out for is noticeable changes in mood. We all have our bad days but if your friend or loved one has become more emotional over a prolonged period of more than 2 or 3 weeks, they may have slipped into a depressed state. They may have become a lot more irritable recently too. Their self-esteem levels might be particularly low and this can cause them to be negative or particularly pessimistic about their life or future, or the world in general. Poor self-esteem can cause us to have real issues with our confidence, so take note if your friend is struggling to look you in the eye or has begun to spend a lot more time hidden away in their room or by themselves.
Depression can also show itself physically. Your loved one might be losing or putting on weight at a particularly unhealthy rate, which is caused by a change of appetite. One’s appetite for sleep is also affected by depression in the same way, so your friend may only be getting a few hours of sleep every night or they might be spending a lot more time in bed than they used to. If your friend has much less energy than usual or is moving much more slowly, this could be because of this lack of sleep or the toll the depression is having on their body. Your friend might also be far less interested than they usually are in their appearance. It’s often the case that hygiene habits can slip when someone slips into a depressive episode.
When you speak to your friend, keep these things in mind. Be subtle when you are asking them questions, as you don’t want to offend anyone by asking about their weight or hygiene habits. It is only these combined with things like a sudden lack of interest in the kind of activities they usually love taking part in or conversations about death, for example, that mean you should raise your concerns.
What to do if you think your friend is depressed | 3 things
When speaking to a loved one who is suffering from depression, the most important thing to do is show that you are taking them seriously and hearing what they are telling you. This sounds obvious, but it can be frustrating for them if they are opening up about how they feel, and you respond with what you feel is helpful advice. You might feel like practical advice on lifestyle changes or what you know helped another friend of yours with their depression will be useful for them to know, but what your friend needs is for you to simply understand how they feel. Allow them to talk at length about this if they are comfortable to do so. Validate their feelings and ask questions to show them that you are interested and that you care.
What can be helpful in conversation with your loved one is trying to be positive, without forcing a false positivity. For example, reminding them of why people love them or like spending time with them, but not reminding them of the things they should feel happy about.
Think about your body language if a friend is opening up to you. Use your body language to show that you are listening and interested. Doing something as simple as looking at your phone while they’re being vulnerable with you could deter them from opening up.
Remember, it’s not your role as a friend to fix your friend’s depression. Your role is simply to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Try not to speak about similar experiences you or someone you know may have had. Each and every experience is entirely different and your friend won’t feel like being compared or lumped into a group with others. Depression is a complex mental health condition and treating is should be left to the professionals. Just notice that your friend is suffering will show them that you are there and that you care about them.
And finally, remember that your friend will probably be finding these conversations incredibly difficult. While they mightn’t want to speak to you about how they’re feeling the first or even the second time you bring it up, be patient with them and allow them continuous opportunities to do so.
Just be there
Being there for your friend means being available to them as and when they need you. This might seem trivial, but it will make all the difference to them. They might not want to spend much time with you at the moment, but try not to let this bother you. It can sometimes feel like you’re being rejected but just know that it’s nothing to do with you. Stay in touch – continue to call or message your friend even if you’re not getting much back. A caring text from a friend could really make their day.
By being around, you can help them with the everyday tasks that might seem unmanageable to them at the moment. Maybe they need a hand with their laundry or they might want someone to go for a walk with. These little tasks or activities might only take 30 minutes out of your day but they will feel like a much bigger deal to someone who is suffering with depression, even if they are not able to communicate it very well right now.
When you know that a friend or loved one is struggling and they’re saying no to invitations, remember to keep inviting them. Even if they’ve been saying no for a long time, continuing to involve them in social situations shows that the offer will always be there. Knowing that they aren’t forgotten about and will be able to join activities again in the future when they’re feeling more up for it again shows that they are loved and wanted. As well as this, let them know that they are welcome to join in with any activities even if they don’t want to be involved in conversation. Just being out of the house and being around people can help assure them that they are accepted as they are and are never a burden.
Being patient with your friend is important. There may be days they want to spill their heart out to you and there may be days they want to hide away from you. Remember that these are natural aspects of depression and your friend might have very different needs from day to day.
Finally, recognise when it’s time to intervene
You might be in a position where you feel like your friend needs urgent professional help. Well done for recognising this and knowing that your loved one has many options for professional help. If they are hurting themselves, putting themselves in particularly dangerous or risky situations, seriously abusing substances, pushing everyone away or they are talking about death or suicide, then it is time to step in.
There are a number of UK emergency helplines for people who are in despair. Your friend can speak to them about how they’re feeling without any fear of being judged and it’s completely confidential.
- The Samaritans offer a 24/7 helpline through calling 116 123.
- Shout is an organisation who run a text helpline service which is also available 24/7 by texting ‘SHOUT’ to 85258.
- Mind is another useful resource that goes into lots of detail on their website about coping with mental health struggles like depression.
If you are with your friend in person, the most important thing to do is to stay with them if they are in a state of despair. Make sure your environment is safe (no weapons or medication lying around, etc). If you believe they need to go to the hospital, you can take them to A&E at your closest hospital.