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Published on November 05, 2019

You Can Do a Lot for a Depressed Friend

Chances are you know someone struggling with depression – it’s among the most common behavioral health problems facing Americans today. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 7 percent of U.S. adults – that’s more than 17 million people – experienced depression in the past year. And while you may be familiar with the some of the symptoms of depression, how confident are you in supporting a friend, colleague or family member who’s struggling?

Signs of Depression

To start, make sure you’re familiar with depression symptoms. If you have a friend who has experienced some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, they may be suffering from depression.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Note that many signs of depression are often opposite ends of a spectrum, where an individual’s typical behavior marks the center. For example, sleeping far more than usual OR sleeping much less than usual are both symptoms; so are having no appetite at all OR eating much more than usual. Do not assume that because someone is experiencing the opposite of one expected symptom, that they’re not displaying signs of depression at all.

How to Help

Now that you're more aware of what to look for, how can you support someone who may be suffering from depression? Mental Health First Aid USA has developed a simple five-step plan that can give anyone a framework for how to be there for those in your life struggling with depression: Think ALGEE.

A – Assess for risk of suicide or harm - Be alert for signs of suicidal thoughts and actions. If you think someone’s life is in imminent danger, always seek emergency help right away.

L – Listen without judgment - Having someone to listen patiently about how we're feeling is often a very important first step.

G - Give assurance and information - Be sure to acknowledge how someone who is struggling with depression is feeling and make your concern for them felt. Reassure them that depression is a diagnosable, and more important, treatable condition.

E - Encourage appropriate professional help - There are many sources of professional support for depression: primary care physicians, campus counseling centers and local behavioral health centers. If they don't know where to start, an online depression screening with links to local resources is a great place to start.

E - Encourage self-help and other support strategies - In addition to professional help, there are many lifestyle changes that an individual can make to promote better mental health. Don't shy away from reaching out to someone who may be struggling with depression. Showing that you care can only help, and you never know how much they may be in need of a friend.

If you or a friend are having symptoms and you are not sure what mental health condition might be present, take a free, confidential behavioral health online screening for yourself or on behalf of a friend or loved one.

And finally, don't be afraid to ask someone directly: are you thinking of suicide? Talking about suicide does not make the situation worse and helps the person by encouraging them to open up. If someone is suicidal, do not leave them alone. Take them to the nearest emergency room, call 911 or call the 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Helpline. If you are unsure, uncomfortable or unable to take action, you can call this number or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting ACT to 741741.

dave miers

About Dr. Dave Miers

Dave Miers, PhD, is the counseling and program development manager for mental health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.

He helped establish the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition in 1999 and chaired/co-chaired this Coalition until 2017. He currently serves on the Board of Directors. Dr. Miers is a member of the leadership group for the Lincoln/Lancaster County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Dr. Miers has published research and co-authored a chapter in the Routledge International Handbook of Clinical Suicide Research focusing on family survivors of a child suicide. Dr. Miers helped develop the Lincoln Lancaster Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team in Lincoln, Neb. He also helped develop other LOSS teams in Nebraska and is active with LOSS team development on a national level.

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