IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program

How to Help a Friend with Depression

Everyone feels blue now and then, but being down in the dumps over a long period of time is not a normal part of life. A depressed mood that lingers can change the way a person thinks or feels, and becomes “clinical depression.” About 15% of the population will suffer from depression at some point during their lifetime. It is important to know that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical disorder, like pneumonia. It is not caused by a lack of willpower, and it is not a sign of weakness. 

The good news is that depression is treatable. Through medication and/or psychotherapy, over 80% of sufferers get better. Your gentle support and steadfast friendship can make a big difference. Here’s what you can do. 

  1. Accept that depression is a disease. You would not tell someone with cancer to “snap out of it.” Some people don’t even know that they are depressed. Ask “how can I help you?”
  2. Encourage your friend to share his or her feelings with you. Talking about it helps a person feel better, not worse. Listen, and accept their feelings without judgment and without trying to problem solve. Your friend may not have the energy or motivation for that until they begin to recover. Sometimes they just need to vent. Help them to express feelings in other ways—art, poetry, writing, journaling, sports, and video games.
  3. Educate yourself on clinical depression. Learn everything you can in order to be more understanding. Let them know that you will be there for them.
  4. Don't take it personally. Depressed individuals are pessimistic and they tend to isolate. Call them anyway. Invite them anyway. Keep calling, even when they don’t respond. Send them a note or a text. This is not about you; it is a symptom of the illness. Get angry at the illness, not the person.
  5. Get your friend up and moving. Exercise is a good way to counteract the effects of depression. However, your friend may not do this on his or her own. Set up a time, pick them up, go to the gym, or just go on walks. Think of other low-stress activities like watching a movie (a comedy, not something tragic), going out to eat, cleaning the apartment. Encourage, don’t force. Start slowly.
  6. Provide emotional support and compassion. Remind them of all their good qualities. Ask what you can do to help, rather than assume you know the answers. Keep the conversation as positive as possible.
  7. Monitor possible suicidal gestures or threats and act on them. They are not doing this for attention, but for help. Make sure that a doctor, security or a trained professional is informed. If you are in an emergency situation, call the helpline at 260-373-7500. The professionals are there to help you.
  8. Communicate with other people in the person’s support network. Contact family, friends, and clergy, etc. to let them know of your concern. Work as a team; don’t take on this responsibility alone. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it.
  9. Beware of “contagious depression”. It can be hard to be around someone who is always negative. Stay as positive as possible. Know that your feelings of helplessness and frustration are perfectly normal.
  10. Help them to get more involved in life and thinking outside themselves. Help them find positive social networks, volunteer opportunities, or support groups.
  11. Be patient, honest, and direct, but non-judgmental.
  12. Advise them to seek professional help. Depression is not something that goes away by itself. It is a serious illness. Bring them in to the IPFW Student Assistance Counseling office in Walb Union, room 210. We want to help.

What to avoid:

  • Do not snap at the person or expect them to “snap out of it.”  They cannot help the way they are feeling.
  • Do not joke about the matter. This is serious.
  • Be careful what you say or do to them. They are especially sensitive right now, and see the world through darkened lenses.
  • Don’t remind them that their life is better than someone else’s.
  • Offer advice sparingly.
  • Do not be nosy; don’t force them to talk about private matters. 
  • Do not gossip about them. Ask their permission to share the depression with another person, hopefully someone who will also help.

What you can do to protect your own well-being: 

  • Be genuine in your concern and support.
  • Be honest with yourself about how much time and effort you can afford to spare helping.
  • Be aware of your own needs and seek support for yourself.
  • Maintain and respect healthy boundaries.

What you can’t do:

  • Control how another person is going to respond to you.
  • Decide for another person whether or not s/he wants help or wants to change.

Warnings of suicide: 

  • They talk about wanting to die or wishing it was over. This is serious, do not ignore it. Encourage them to talk.
  • They begin giving away possessions.
  • They stockpile medication or buy guns.
  • They abuse alcohol or drugs.
  • They may begin acting as if they are happier, when in fact, they have planned their death.

Note: If your friend does any of these things, call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you are on campus and it is an emergency, call the campus police at 260-481-6911 or 260-481-6827. These officers are trained to help students in crisis.