How To Help A Friend With Depression: 13 Strategies That Can Help

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 08/08/2022

You may have a friend or loved one who seems depressed or has been diagnosed with depression, and you aren’t sure how to reach out to them. Depression can be a touchy subject and the last thing you want to do is say something that will hurt them.

How To Tell I A Friend Is Depressed

Mother and teenage daughter having an argument

Having a game plan before you reach out to someone who’s depressed may give you confidence before you take that first step. The first thing that you’ll want to know is how to tell if someone is depressed. These tips can help:

They Withdraw From Activities They used To Enjoy

If you notice your friend choosing to stay home instead of joining in on activities they used to love, they may have depression. Depression can cause loss of sleep, which can lead to exhaustion that makes engaging in previous activities more difficult.

If they do engage in an activity, you may notice that they just seen to be present without seeming to really enjoy the activity. They may appear distracted or simply like they’re going through the motions.

Low Energy

Depression can cause insomnia, pain, and stress, which can result in a decrease in energy. If your friend seems more sluggish, as if just performing their normal routine takes too much energy, then it could be a sign that they are experiencing depression.

An Increase Or Decrease Of Weight

A person who has depression may turn to unhealthy food for comfort. This can result in weight gain. Or they may lose interest in eating and experience a noticeable weight loss. Either way, if you’ve noticed this in your friend, it could be a sign of depression.

Insomnia Or Sleeping Too Much

You may hear your friend talking about their lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns. This can also be a sign of depression. On the flip side, they may also struggle with wanting to sleep all the time. You may find that they nap throughout the day even though they get enough sleep at night.

Substance Abuse

If you notice your friend or family member drinking more alcoholic beverages when you’re together, or you notice they’re using drugs, then they could have depression. These can be ways of self-medicating.

They Become Workaholics

Someone experiencing depression may immerse themselves in their job, so they don’t have to face their feelings.

Stressful man working at home

Throughout this article, you’ll find strategies that you can use with a depressed friend of family member.

1. Learn What To Say To Someone With Depression

If you notice the signs above in one of your friends or have other reasons to suspect that they may be struggling with depression it can be difficult to know what to say. Learning to say the right things can make a big difference. Here are some things you can try:

Do you feel like talking about what’s going on?

When you make that offer, it lets them know you’re aware they’re struggling with something. It provides an opening for them to share their story with you without making it seem forceful. The choice is theirs.

I’m available to listen, if you ever need someone to talk with.

Offering to be available when they’re ready keeps them from feeling an immediate sense of pressure to open up. People with depression aren’t usually looking for you to fix them, but they might like a listening ear.

Is there anything I can help with?

When you offer to help, make sure you’re able to follow through. At times an offer to do something specific, such as bringing over dinner, eases the decision-making a person with depression may have.

How are you handling the depression?

Depression isn’t something a person needs to feel ashamed about. So, saying this may be the directness your friend needs to know you aren’t attaching a stigma to their diagnosis. However, if they haven’t communicated to you that they’re struggling with depression, you might not want to make the assumption for them.

I may not know exactly what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.

Just the words, I’m here for you, can let a depressed person know they aren’t alone and opens the door for a person with depression to share. Unless you’ve actually lived with depression and the same type of situation that they have in life, don’t claim to know what they’re experiencing.

Teen boy consoling an upset girl

It sounds like you’re having a hard time.

Acknowledging that a depressed person is going through is hard, instead of treating them as if they should just power through it, is treating them with respect. Depression isn’t something that happens because a person is weak.

2. Learn What Not To Say To Someone With Depression

Just as important as knowing what to say, is knowing what to avoid saying. You may have good intentions but if you say the wrong thing, you could end up hurting your friend instead of helping them as you want. Here are some things to avoid saying:

There’s a lot of other people who have it worse.

When someone is living with depression, it’s not helpful to have their situation compared with someone else’s experience. So, avoid telling them that they don’t have it that bad and that everyone has problems. Depression is a mental illness and not a result of their consequences.

Cheer up! You’re going to be fine!

Depression isn’t caused by a person’s circumstances. So, just giving them a pep talk isn’t going to help, and instead may cause them to withdraw from you.

I followed this diet and it cured me!

Though it’s true that following a healthy diet can ease symptoms of depression, that alone can’t cure it. And along with this, remember that there are different types of treatment for depression and not everyone will respond to the same thing. You can encourage your friend to seek help, but don’t feel you need to push them to do the same thing as you.

Come on! Just get over it!

Depression isn’t like sadness. A person dealing with depression needs more than a scolding or pep talk. Doing this is likely to make them feel even worse. Most likely, they don’t want to feel the way they’re feeling but they aren’t able to just shut it off.

Just think positive thoughts.

If it were that easy, there’d be no depressed people. Depression isn’t caused by negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are a symptom of depression.

Mother and teenage daughter having an arguument

How To Help Someone With Depression And Anxiety

Here are a few other tips you can use to help a friend or family member that is struggling with depression.

3.  Learn The Symptoms Of Depression And Anxiety

When you educate yourself about what depression and anxiety are, you are better able to understand their needs. Since depression and anxiety have some different symptoms, you’ll want to research both of them.

4.  Keep Inviting Them To Activities

Symptoms of depression and anxiety can keep a person from attending social gatherings like they used to. And each time they have to cancel, they add more guilt to their conscience. So extending flexible invitations will keep them from feeling left out.

5.  Encourage Them To Get Help Or Find Treatment

If your friend hasn’t sought treatment for their depression or anxiety yet, they may need some encouragement. You may even offer to drive your friend to the doctor’s appointment. If you’ve received treatment before, feel free to share your experience with them but don’t pressure them to do the exact same thing you did.

6.  Respect Their Experiences

People experiencing depression and anxiety can also have low self esteem. They may feel people don’t take their mental health issues seriously. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, you can still validate them as they share their experiences with it. Try using the phrase “tell me about it” in order to see things from their point of view.

Loving Someone With Depression

Loving someone or being in a relationship with someone that’s depressed can bring about new challenges. It can be helpful to learn about the type of depression they’ve been diagnosed with. The more you understand it, the easier it will be for you.

However, it’s also important for you to understand that you’re not able to fix them and they don’t usually expect you to. In fact, if you feel like you should be able to fix them then you may actually be putting more pressure on the person because they don’t want to let you down.

Here are some ideas on how to help a depressed spouse or partner:

7. Understand They’ll Probably Have Mood Swings

Pay attention to your spouse’s mood swings. They may be angry one minute and withdrawn the next. Keep track of their mood swings so you can share that information with their doctor if necessary.

Remind yourself that their behavior is not about you, it’s the depression.

8. Encourage Your Spouse To Eat Healthy Meals

Join them in dietary changes so it becomes a positive change instead of feeling like a punishment.

Couple Having Breakfast at Home

9.Encourage Physical Exercise

Exercise helps the brain cope with stress. Encourage them to do the form of exercise they enjoy the most or try inviting your partner to join you on a walk.

10. Let Them Know You’re On The Same Team

Almost everybody wants to know they’re not alone in their struggles, and people with depression are no different. Remind your spouse that you’re in it together.

11. Encourage Them To Seek Professional Care

Depression can make even the smallest tasks, like calling for a doctor’s appointment overwhelming. Offer to make that call and set up an appointment if they’re unable to. Or assist them in finding an online therapy option that allows them to seek treatment from home.

12. Don’t Be An Enabler

As tempting as it is to do everything for your spouse, taking over for them can give them a sense of dependency and helplessness.

13. Ask Questions To Engage Them In Their Care

A depressed person can feel a lack of motivation. So asking them questions about depression and what kind of treatment they are using for it, helps keep them from becoming overly dependent on others.

How To Know If Someone Is Depressed

If you believe that a friend or loved one is struggling with depression but aren’t sure, there is an online depression quiz that can help you out. The results will be most accurate if they do the quiz on their own, but you can fill it out to the best of your ability to get an idea of their results as well.

This can be the first step to helping your friend or loved one address their struggle.