Do you suspect a friend might be depressed? It can happen to anyone. Depression is more common than you think — no one is immune. You don’t have to “fix” your friend’s problems, but there’s a lot you can do to help them cope. Here’s what depression looks like from the outside — and how you can act as a reliable support system for a person you love.
Concentration problems and memory loss are common depression symptoms, says Healthline. Try not to get frustrated when chores go undone or conversations vanish as if they never happened. Try leaving short reminders — sticky notes, text messages, voicemails. It’s a great way to keep in touch and gently motivate your loved one to complete small tasks and feel purposeful.
They don’t want to go out
According to Livestrong.com, depression can make it difficult for someone to engage in conversation, even with friends. This often results in social withdrawal — avoiding situations that involve being around other people. Offer to spend time with your friend or family member in their safe space. Social interaction can make someone with depression feel more connected with the world, despite how hard it might be for them.
They’re no longer interested in doing things they used to love
Someone who is depressed often finds simple tasks more challenging than usual. Consumer Health Digest reports hormonal imbalances, major life events, and genetics can all play a role in depression, and a lack of interest in activities is a difficult side effect. If you notice a loved one having trouble completing basic tasks, it’s OK to offer help. If they’re struggling to cook for themselves, for example, prepare a meal or two on their behalf and enjoy it together.
They’re eating less — or more — than usual
Changes in eating habits can signal depression, says Everyday Health’s Major Depression Resource Center. Weight gain, or weight loss, are also common. Some people who experience feelings of sadness or worthlessness overeat, while those who struggle with fatigue and loss of interest in activities lose their appetite. You can help by encouraging your loved one to speak with a doctor or dietitian about their diet. Healthy eating won’t cure depression, but it can help someone manage their symptoms.
They respond to everything negatively
Does everything your loved one says come out negative? According to Psych Central, these depressive thoughts aren’t easy to control. However, you can help someone who is depressed replace their negative thoughts with positive ideas. If a family member loses their job, and expresses their concerns about not being able to find another, don’t scold them for worrying — encourage them to look ahead. Help them replace “I’ll never get a job like the last one” with “I’ll find a job that will teach me new skills.”
They’re angry and irritable all the time
Sometimes, depression looks more like anger than sadness. Your loved one might have a lot of bottled-up feelings they’re hesitant to express openly. Give them that outlet. One of the best things you can do for someone with depression, Everyday Health says, is listen to what they have to say. If they’re angry, let them express that anger verbally. If they’re upset, let them tell you why. Often times, being present during these emotional moments is a better form of support than trying to give advice.
They’re talking a lot about death
If you suspect a loved one might be depressed, pay close attention to what they’re focusing on. Reading, writing, or even watching shows about death could be a major red flag. Mayo Clinic warns that preoccupation with death could be considered a form of suicidal ideation in some people. If you notice a loved one thinking a lot about death, or talking about dying themselves, encourage them to get help. You can always call a suicide hotline if you fear your friend or family member is in immediate danger.
What you shouldn’t say
There are many ways to help a friend or family member living with depression — but there are also a couple things you shouldn’t say in the process. Don’t criticize them for being a “downer” or “lazy.” Don’t tell them to “get over it” — it’s not that simple. A person with depression can’t control their behavior. In most cases, they would love to be able to think positively and be more productive — they just can’t. Sometimes, a simple “I’m here for you” can make a huge difference.