5 ways you can help a friend suffering from depression

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Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. In the United States, close to 10 percent of adults struggle with depression. But because it’s a mental illness, it can be a lot harder to understand than, say, high cholesterol.

One major source of confusion is the difference between having depression and just feeling depressed. Almost everyone feels down from time-to-time, but Clinical Depression is different. It’s a medical disorder, and it won’t go away just because you want it to. It lingers for at least two consecutive weeks and significantly interferes with one’s ability to work, play or love. Chances are you know someone who suffers from depression. Here are some ways you can help.

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1. Help find help: If you know someone struggling with depression, encourage them – gently – to seek out help. You might even offer to help with specific tasks, like looking up therapists in the area or making a list of questions to ask a doctor. To someone with depression, these first steps can seem insurmountable.

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2. Be informed: If they feel guilty or ashamed, point out that depression is a medical condition just like asthma or diabetes. It’s not a weakness or a personality trait, and they shouldn’t expect themselves to “just get over it” any more than they could will themselves to get over a broken arm. The more you know about mental illness, the better able you are to understand what they are going through, and to support them.

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3. Don’t downplay it: If you haven’t experienced depression yourself, avoid comparing it to times you’ve felt down – comparing what they’re experiencing to normal, temporary feelings of sadness can make them feel guilty for struggling.

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4. Stamp out stigma: Even just talking about depression openly can help. For example, research shows that asking someone about suicidal thoughts actually reduces their suicide risk. Open conversations about mental illness help erode stigma, and make it easier for people to ask for help. And, the more patients seek treatment, the more scientists will learn about depression, and the better the treatments will get.

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5. Continue the conversation: Because depression’s symptoms are intangible, it’s hard to know who might look fine, but is actually struggling. Just because your friend may seem fine one day, don’t assume that they’ve ‘gotten better’. Remain supportive.

From the TED-Ed Lesson: What is depression?

Animation by Artrake Studio/TED-Ed

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16 Comments

  1. “A good friend is a connection to life — a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” Lois Wyse

  2. Very interesting I have learned so much by reading that article I always though i suffered from depression I was confused I was just given a raw deal in life but it was up to me to take action and change that

  3. Wishuda. Wongcheep

    Very good

  4. Fran Patience

    I have a very dear friend who suffers from depression and I would really like to help her in any way I can.I am hoping to learn from this sight,ways to help her.Thank you in advance.

  5. Louisa

    Well I have depression but I have no one to share with. My best friend gets bothered sometimes. I can’t express my feelings so I have to keep pretending that I am totally fine. If your friend is suffering from depression then at least listen to them. It’s not like temporary sadness. It is very long-lasting until it’s treated. Help them before it is too late, before you have to regret it.

    • Laura McClure

      Thank you for sharing this. There is help, and there are people who will listen to you. To talk to someone right now, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

    • Mandy Dixon

      Thank you for sharing your post. Would like to share with you and others out there who are in need of a listening ear: Please call the Nationwide Christian Trust prayer line open mon- fri 9am – 7pm: 01277 367 118

      Also if you have a bible, may I encourage you to read Psalm 40

  6. I am very glad to discover TED-EDD.

  7. Very informative Blog, depression is a important topic in today’s world. Too many students and people are uneducated about depression and end up doing something a person can’t come back from.

  8. Aliza rain

    I have heard some discribe depression as “cancer of the mind” and I think it’s a pretty good description. I have battled (I try to use more positive terminology than “struggle” or “suffer from”) depression for close to 40 years. Depression can go into remission, for example. I have thought I was “cured” more than once, which is kind of awful because when depression relapses it’s a dark hopeless feeling. I know now that this will likely be a life long fight. I guess it’s a good thing I’m stronger than titanium. :)

  9. Terrence

    Good for you Alizarin rain! You are winning the battle and thank you for sharing. My depressions seems to have destroyed my second marriage now and when those you love cannot make sense of it, you have an even bigger battle!

  10. Elaine

    What happens if your friend or family member suffering from depression does not want to seek help (therapy, medicine, etc)? What are some other strategies that could help? Alternative routes or suggestions for the person OR family/friend?

  11. The tips given are ready to lend a hand to individuals who suffer depression. Anyone can start with these tips to apply to their ill friend, and if it does not work, a professional help will then be the next alternative.

  12. David Titley

    Haunted by the black dog since early teens – sometimes you can work against it by training yourself to think round it. Sometimes I just let it go and spend a day in bed. Sometimes it wrecks everything. Friendships are a first casualty. So be nice to people who seem negative all the time, a smile and a chat can go a long way. You don’t have to be an expert to be human; we are all experts at that .

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