Did you know that 90 percent of suicides are the result of an untreated mental health condition? And that one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition—75 percent of which begin by age 24? With these sobering statistics in mind, it’s likely that, at some point, a friend of yours may be struggling with depression.
Unfortunately, some people are resistant to seeking help and treatment for their symptoms or even have a hard time admitting something is wrong. When a friend who is clearly suffering pushes away your offers for help, it can be heartbreaking and hopeless. You may feel helpless or guilty for not doing more, even if you know your friend is not at risk of suicide.
If your friend isn’t willing to seek resources to help with their depression, there are several ways you can support them—and possibly save their life.
Know the Signs of Depression
One important thing you can do is recognize the symptoms of depression. While only a professional can diagnose someone with Major Depressive Disorder, recognizing signs of possible depression—instead of assuming your friend is just going through a “rough patch”—is an important first step to helping a friend find the resources they need to heal (whenever they are ready to seek help). Clinical-level depression is more than just feeling sad. Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling sad
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling worthless
- Losing interest or pleasure in things they used to like or do
- Decreased energy
- Decreased appetite
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Thoughts of death or suicide
While you may be tempted to constantly check in with your friend or send them "helpful" articles, remember that depression—especially severe depression—is an overwhelming and debilitating experience. Respect your friend’s need for space and try to listen rather than going straight to giving her advice. Try to validate how she feels without comparing her pain with yours or anyone else's.
Have Resources at the Ready in Case of a Crisis
Have resources available to recommend to your friend when she's ready for the information. For instance, keep the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number—1-800-273-TALK (8255)—on your phone, the name and number of a competent therapist near her, and the address of the nearest emergency center. Even though it’s scary to think about, the time may come when your friend may need emergency help; having this information at the ready is important.
Similarly, even if your friend is resistant to therapy and medication (if appropriate) right now, having the contact information of a therapist ready means that, if she changes her mind, you can help her at least get the process started. Therapists aren't one-size-fits all and she may have to meet several to find the best fit for her, but finally seeing one therapist is better than none.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask if They’re Feeling Suicidal
Many people are afraid to ask a friend if she's considered committing suicide for fear of giving their friend the idea if she wasn't thinking it before. Please know that this isn’t true.
Yes, it’s an intimidating and scary topic to broach, but being able to talk about it lets your friend know that you are willing to be there for her even when she is going through a really dark time. Asking your friend about suicide won’t cause her to commit suicide. Instead, asking about it will give you the chance to help your friend seek help to prevent her from acting on a suicide plan. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers tips to help a friend get help if they are feeling suicidal or have had thoughts of suicide.
Don’t Give Up on Them
People struggling with depression often isolate themselves from friends and family and turn down social invitations. While you might find yourself getting frustrated when your friend repeatedly turns down your invitations to coffee dates or your dinner parties, remember that isolation is a result of her illness. Don’t give up on her; continue to invite her and stay in touch. That being said, respect her space. You want to let her know that you still want to spend time with her without seeming pushy or offended when she declines.
Being there for a friend who has depression can be very challenging, disheartening, and exasperating. But your friend needs to know that you are there for her, ready with a listening and compassionate ear, and armed with the right resources. Recovering from depression is possible and strong social support is a critical part of that process.
In honor of Suicide Prevention month, share this article with your friends. Just one conversation can change a life.