Helping A Depressed Friend

11depressionWhen someone you love is depressed, it  can feel like nothing you say or do makes a difference. Do you leave them alone if they say they don’t want company? Or press them to do something that might make them even unhappier? What if they blame you for their moods? –  or if everything you do seems to set them off?

Signs to watch out for:

  • Doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore – including things they used to enjoy, like work, hobbies, etc.
  • Is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody.
  • Talks about feeling “helpless” or “hopeless.”
  • Complains of feeling tired and drained and achy.  Might also have headaches, stomach problems, and back pain.
  • Has withdrawn from friends, family, and other social activities.
  • Sleeps less  or oversleeps.
  • Eats more or less than usual, and has recently gained or lost weight.
  • Has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, and seems zonked out.
  • Relies more on alcohol or sleeping tablets or prescription meds.


mateSome thoughts on helping:

  1. You can’t fix them: and you’re not meant to.  However; be careful about covering up for them or making their depression more do-able. It’s one thing to be loving and supportive – but if you’re making excuses for them or acting like nothing’s wrong, this can stop them getting help.
  2. You are not responsible, even if that’s what they say.
  3. Allow yourself to feel angry or confused or guilty or helpless or anything else.  That’s normal, so don’t beat yourself up.  It’s also why;
  4. You need support just as much as they do.  So even if they won’t get help, make sure you stay or get connected to others who can look out for you too. This will help them too.
  5. Keep as much routine in your  life as you can.  See other friends and if the depressed person cancels, try to stick to your plans but bring someone else.  To encourage the depressed friend in their life, you need to keep hold of yours.
  6. Remember they can’t fix themselves either: It’s a serious issue and not something they can just snap out of. But encourage them to talk and remember that listening is one of the most important ways you can help.
  7. Don’t say: ‘what’s wrong?/snap out of it/shouldn’t you be feeling better by now?/look on the bright side’ etc (unless you want to be punched)
  8. Don’t assume that this is a spiritual issue and the depressed person just doesn’t ‘get’ something about the Bible etc.  (Please don’t do this.  Please.  It’s exhausting and does not help)
  9. Do set boundaries so you don’t get too drained.
  10. Do encourage them from the Bible, pray for and with them, gently remind them that they are loved – by you and God and others. Ask how you can help and offer to help with shopping, chores etc which can feel a bit much. Invite them out for gentle activities in low stress locations, (exercise can help).
  11. Do remind them that this will pass; and that you’re there for them for the long haul. Tell them that they’re important to you; be easy company (eg; watching a video together); and encourage them to keep going.
  12. Do challenge them gently if they’re behaving badly or treating you like junk.  Be honest – this will help you both.  But take some time to pray about it and talk it over with friends before opening your mouth.
  13. Help them to set small goals.  Celebrate these and build from there. But be patient – it won’t happen overnight.
  14. Encourage them to seek professional help.  If they feel brain fogged or anxious, help them write down their symptoms and be willing to go with them and talk about what you’ve noticed (if they want you to).  Don’t settle for the first GP you see if they’re not helpful.  It’s worth phoning in advance to see if they have anyone who specialises in mental health and booking a double appointment so you have space to talk.
  15. Help them to set and remember/attend appointments.  Wee things like getting your hair done can make a big difference – but don’t force it.
  16. If they’re taking meds, encourage them to keep going and watch out for side-effects, (they may not spot).
  17. Be alert to signs that they are getting worse or feeling suicidal.  This might include talking about suicide or seeming preoccupied with dying; acting in dangerous and self-destructive ways; saying goodbye or seeming to tie life affairs up; stockpiling pills etc; and a sudden sense of calm after feeling very low. If you are concerned, talk to them and to others who are helping and seek help from your GP. Say ‘I’m worried about you.  You seem to be losing hope.  Are you thinking of doing harm to yourself?’ Stay calm and listen.
  18. Read about depression.  Especially this brilliant blog (also image source).
  19. Model healthy living and a (GENTLY) positive attitude.  This does not mean swooping in, ripping open the curtains and saying ‘MY It’s a BEAUTIFUL DAY TO BE ALIVE’. It could be as simple as appreciating a cup of tea you have together
  20. Remind them that being depressed does NOT make them a bad Christian or person. Emphasise that Jesus comes for the broken; and this includes us all.  Remind them of why they are precious to you and to God. And be open to God teaching you through them – He works through struggling people.

4 thoughts on “Helping A Depressed Friend

  1. That’s a great article, Emma. Highest possible score!

    From my own experiences with depression between 2000 and 2008, I can briefly say that I particularly recall those people who loved me unconditionally, turned the other cheek, listened to whatever rubbish came out of my mouth, and accepted my longing for solitude whenever I didn’t want to see anyone.
    Those “lonely” times were so important for me because then I was alone with God who – step by step – began to heal my deep wounds from childhood, youth, and later.
    And yes, patience is necessary too. God often needs many years or even decades to change our hearts. In some cases people die before they could be healed completely (I am thinking here especially of those whom I knew and who committed suicide). However, we have a gracious and merciful God who is the I AM, the (eternal) Life and the Resurrection (Jn 11:25), and thus He won’t stop dealing with our problems even if we die earlier than expected.

  2. Thanks Suzanne. That’s a good point – the lonely times can be the ones where we are also freed to be alone with God.

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