How do I help a friend with depression?

Doctor's Answers (2)

Dr Beng Yeong Ng

"Psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience"

Your friend would appreciate having you around. Many people with depression find it hard to maintain their relationships with others. Given their persistent low mood, they tend to be pessimistic in their outlook and like to harp on events that went wrong in their lives.
If they keep talking all about the negative stuff in their lives, their friends usually will not enjoy their company very much. So the most important thing that you can do is to keep your friend company, allow him or her to talk and ventilate and validate his or her feelings.
When listening to your depressed friends, it will good to hear them out first and not interrupt them too early or too frequently. It is important to exercise some self-restraint and not to offer quick advice or suggestions as they will feel that you doubt their level of intelligence. If their problem can be easily solved, they would have thought of the solutions themselves.
The other tip that I can offer is that: whether the depressed individual decides to take medications or to undergo therapy, it will take many weeks or even months before the mood may improve significantly. So it will be important if you can encourage the person to persevere with the treatment and not to give up too easily. If they have side effects from the antidepressants, they can discuss with the doctor to see if the dosage can be lowered or the person can be switched to another antidepressant.
An important psychological intervention is behavioural activation. This means that the person needs to schedule activities for himself or herself. You can keep your friend company by going for long walks together, cycling or catching a movie. If the depressed person were to keep staying at home and not participate in any activities outside of the house, there is a high chance that he or she will just keep thinking of negative things and wallow in self-pity.
Thank you for being around when your friend needs you the most. Do work closely with the mental health professional so that your depressed friend will be out of the woods soon.
Dr Paul Ang

"Family Physician with special interest in Mental Health"

You can help your friend with depression in many ways. But first, we have to stop being unhelpful first.

The following are not helpful:

  1. Asking them to snap out of it. They can't.
  2. Asking them to stop thinking. They can't.
  3. Asking them to stop being so stressed. It is not just about stress; you will never understand.

But hey, that leads us to... "So, doc, what is actually helpful?"

  1. Being there. Being there physically and wholeheartedly is a lost art of humanity. Try this: Put your phone to flight mode while you are with your friend and just look at him/her in the eyes. You will be surprised how effective this can be.
  2. Exercise is a natural antidepressant. Start by walking. Walking in nature has an additional antidepressant effect.
  3. Regularity. It really is no use doing things once off. Set up a routine. Routines are so powerful and simple that many people become depressed simply because they have no routines. They try to do too much with too little time. Result: Burnouts.
  4. Being a listening ear. This is actually the hardest thing to do. Most humans will want to solve problems and fix things. That's not helpful. Try to really just listen, nod your head, say like "Hmm", "yes", "I see". Don't get it? It's ok, at least pretend to listen, you will get it.
  5. Bring them to seek help. This is invaluable. Sometimes, they need professional help. Where to go? You can read about it here.

Take care and your friend will be ok, as long as you stick around.

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