The most important practical thing you can do for a friend who may be depressed is to help him or her get both a medical and a counseling evaluation to create a treatment plan. The sooner treatment is started, the sooner the depression will be relieved. You can also help your friend in the recovery process. Here are some suggestions.
- Encourage your friend to complete the entire course of treatment (counseling, medication, etc.). Many people battling with depression want to quit treatment when their symptoms begin to improve. However, stopping treatment prematurely can result in a worsening of symptoms and a longer recovery.
- If your friend’s symptoms aren’t improving after a few weeks, encourage him or her to consult their physician and/or counselor again as treatment plans often need to be adjusted, especially if the plan includes medication.
- If your friend is struggling to keep treatment appointments, offer to accompany him or her.
You can also offer your friend much needed emotional support. Here are some suggestions.
- Learn about depression so you are better able to understand what your friend is experiencing, why he or she may be reacting in certain ways and what to expect while your friend is in treatment.
- It’s okay to ask someone who is battling depression how they are feeling. However, if you ask, stick around to really listen. Your friend needs to know that you aren’t just asking out of courtesy but that you really care about how he or she is doing.
- Don’t dismiss negative and disparaging remarks. Your friend is being honest. It’s okay, however, to gently respond with truth-based and hopeful comments. However, if your friend or loved one makes comments that are self-destructive, seek immediate help. Depression can be life-threatening.
- Initiate activities with your friend that he or she likes, especially if those activities involve physical exercise such as golfing, swimming, hiking, etc.
- Don’t be forceful with your friend about participating in social events and activities. Encourage but don’t push. You may cause your friend to feel overwhelmed and guilty. One woman described her depression as the equivalent of driving a car down the freeway in first gear. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t use a higher gear. Don’t expect your friend to drive faster than he or she is capable.
- Offer encouragement and praise when your friend takes positive steps towards recovery such as joining a support group, exercise or art class.
Prayer is a powerful weapon in the depression battle. One of the most troubling symptoms of depression is the lack of emotion and feeling. That numbness often occurs in your friend’s relationship with God. So knowing that someone else is standing in the gap for them in prayer can be especially encouraging.
- Ask you friend for prayer specifics: “How can I be praying for you right now?”
- Follow up on your prayers, “I’ve been praying specifically about (fill in the blank). How is that going?”
- Offer to pray with your friend, especially when he or she hits a recovery road block or needs an injection of hope and encouragement.
Copyright © 2011 by Endurance with Jan and Dave Dravecky. Portions Adapted from National Institute of Mental Health web site, nimh.nih.gov. NIMH is a part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services