Since about 1 in 5 college-aged young adults have depression or anxiety, chances are good that you know someone who is seriously struggling with their mental health.
You want to know how to help someone with depression, but you do not understand what you should do. You definitely don’t want to make them feel worse, but you also don’t want their mental illness to take over your own life.
While the symptoms of depression can seem scary at first, there are things you and your other friends can do to encourage someone with depression to help themselves and move forward in life.
Above all else, remember that your role is to empower them to take control of their life again, not serve as a crutch or to judge them for their behavior.
In this post, we’ll tell you some of the most important things you need to know about how to help someone with depression.
Read on to learn how to listen, understand the help a depressed friend’s needs, and much more.
1. Take Care of Yourself First
The first thing you need to understand about how to help someone with depression is that it can quickly become all-consuming if you let it.
The depressed person is often so grateful to finally have an outlet to talk to someone about how they feel that they may contact you at all hours, emotionally drain you, or expect you to drop what you’re doing whenever they need help.
This isn’t their fault, as it’s probably exactly the way you would act if you were experiencing the same level of emotional pain as you are.
You may also feel you’re the only person your friend with depression has in their corner and worry about what would happen to them if you weren’t always there for them.
It can be difficult (especially if you’re in a relationship with someone with depression) but remember it is not selfish to put your needs first. You cannot help someone if you’re too exhausted, emotionally destroyed, or even have feelings of resentment towards them.
Stop feeling guilty for enjoying your life, being happy, going out with friends, and not taking every phone call. Not only will setting boundaries allow you to better help the depressed person, but it will also protect your own mental health.
2. Listen, Don’t Advise
When speaking with your depressed friend, there’s one golden rule you should aim to abide by: simply listen, don’t advise.
Encourage them to open up to you by saying something like, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t quite been yourself lately. I want you to know that I’m here if you need to talk.”
Try these other conversation starters on how to help a depressed friend.
Don’t pass judgments on how they’ve been acting by saying something like, “Everyone says you’ve been acting weird lately,” or “It’s tough for us to have fun when you act so upset all the time, you’ve been a major buzzkill lately.”
When they talk, empathize and let them speak. Try saying things like, “That must be hard,” or “I can tell you’re struggling with this,” or “I am so sorry you’re feeling this way.”
Most of the time, a depressed person just wants someone to talk to, and to know that someone cares. Even just having the chance to speak about the feelings they’ve been trying to hide from others for so long can be a huge relief and help.
Then, ask them what you can do right now to help them feel better.
Would they like to go see a movie? Do they need you to assist with cooking or cleaning? Would they like you to help them call their parents or another family member?
This leads us to our next piece of advice: assisting your friend with finding professional help.
3. Help Them Find a Therapist
Here’s the thing: no matter how helpful your willingness to listen is (and trust us, it does a lot) you are not a professional and you do not have the knowledge, tools, or ability to write a prescription for medication that a mental health professional does.
Your friend may need a proper diagnosis, the chance to experiment with different therapy, or even just a neutral third party to talk to.
However, many people with depression feel like finding a therapist is a monumental task — and they may also feel that admitting they need to talk to a psychiatrist/psychologist is an admission that there’s something wrong with them.
One of the best things you can do when learning how to help friends with depression is to help them find the mental healthcare they need.
Use directories like this one to help them find a therapist that’s on their insurance plan, in the area, affordable, and who has experience with the particular challenges they’re facing.
4. Keep Extending Invitations
We know that it can be a bit frustrating to keep inviting your friend with depression out with you and your other friends, as they tend to cancel plans at the last minute or even just not show up at all.
However, one of the best things you can do is to continue to include them in your plans — yes, even when you know there’s pretty much no chance that they’ll actually end up coming out with you.
Sometimes, a depressed person just wants to feel like they’re still living a normal life, that they have options when they want to go out, and that there are people around them who care about them and enjoy spending time with them.
It may take some serious patience on the parts of you and your friend groups, but keep those invites coming. Eventually, they will come out — or you can go and see them as a group.
5. Educate Yourself About Their Mental Illness
It’s tough to understand how to help someone with depression if you don’t know at least a little bit about the specifics of their mental illness.
We suggest educating yourself about what depression looks like, the signs/symptoms of depression, and even how you can help your friend to avoid triggers.
Remember that there are tons of different forms and severities of depression and that there is no “set standard” of how an individual may act when they are depressed.
There are some common symptoms and your friend may have depression if they are:
- Physically exhausted
- Experiencing rapid weight fluctuations
- Prone to angry outbursts
- Socially withdrawn/isolating themselves
- Experiencing extreme mood swings
- Not eating
- Not showing up for class
If you know the signs to look for, you can step in sooner and get them they help they need faster.
Additionally, remember that depression and anxiety often go together.
Study up on illnesses like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and even Bipolar Disorder.
These are just a few of the many kinds of mental illness that have depression as a symptom.
6. Take Suicide Threats Seriously
Though at first, it might seem obvious that you would always take any kind of suicidal ideation or threat with the utmost seriousness, you will likely realize that your friend with depression talks or even threatens suicide much more than you may have initially thought they would.
Of course, the first time they do it, you do take it seriously. You call friends and family members, offer to take them to the hospital, stay with them, and try to get them into the on-campus therapist as soon as possible.
But by the ninth or tenth time that your friend starts talking about wanting to end their life?
You’ve become almost numb to it, perhaps even slightly frustrated by the constant threats.
The best thing you can do, as hard as it may be sometimes, is to act as though every suicidal threat or comment they make is 100% real. First of all, even if the person isn’t seriously considering suicide, by bringing it up, they’re expressing the extremity of their feelings. They likely feel like threatening to kill themselves is the only way to get the people around them to understand how they truly feel.
Secondly, by responding as though the suicide talk is real, you’ll teach them that they can’t make these comments and threats idly or casually because this is not a casual subject.
Finally, and most importantly, no matter how many times they’ve talked about suicide — and especially if they never have before — this time, they may go through with it.
Call the suicide hotline, campus security, or even the police immediately.
Additionally, know the signs of potential suicide. Be on the alert and get help if your friend has:
- Purchased a weapon
- Started doing drugs
- Made plans for suicide
- Started to arrange their affairs
- Searched online for suicide methods
- Expressed feelings of hopelessness
- Discussed being a burden
These are all signs they may be preparing to do something drastic.
Contact your other friends and roommates and formulate a plan about what you should do next. Do not be afraid to involve campus mental health professionals, your friend’s family, or even off-campus mental health experts.
7. Set and Enforce Consequences
While you should always try to avoid taking the symptoms of someone else’s mental illness personally, the fact is that sometimes, the words or actions of a depressed person can still hurt.
Remember that mental illness is never an excuse or justification for anger, emotional abuse, manipulation, or physical violence.
If you want to know how to help a depressed friend stick to their treatment plan and recover, sometimes you must set boundaries.
For example, if they constantly call you to ask for money because they’ve been fired from yet another job, be firm and tell them that while you’re no longer able to lend them any more cash, you’re more than happy to help them look for another position.
Let them know that if they behave in a certain way or make a threat, you will leave. Stick to your word, no matter how difficult.
Especially if you’re in a romantic relationship with someone who has severe depression, they may feel that you’ll allow them to behave in any way they’d like towards you because you love them. If they threaten physical violence, become extremely angry, or even disrespect your relationship by cheating or constantly breaking up with you and then getting back together, do not allow them to blame their mental illness.
Part of the recovery process is accepting that actions have consequences.
Having a mental illness doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want.
After all, there are plenty of mentally ill people who are not dangerous, mean, or abusive.
It is fine to leave the room, take a break from communicating with them, or even end the friendship or relationship for good if these behaviors continue. If you’re seriously concerned for your safety, contact the police or domestic violence hotline.
Learning How to Help Someone with Depression Is Possible
As a compassionate individual, we know that you want to understand how to help someone with depression on your own.
Remember that while you and your friend group can do a lot, the responsibility should not fall only to you.
Involve campus mental health professionals, your friend’s family, and off-campus mental health experts.
Having your own space, especially your own off-campus apartment, allows you to take care of yourself first. Plus, if you’re suffering from depression or want to live with a friend that is, living in a student housing apartment gives you a sense of community while also ensuring you have a peaceful place that’s removed from triggers and stressors.
Want to find out more about off-campus apartments? Ready to make the big move to your own space?
Be sure to check out our amazing student apartments to find your dream home and improve your mental health.