- Mental Health
How to Help a Depressed Friend
This hub is designed to answer the question: "How do you comfort a friend who is depressed? I often quote verses from the bible to him/her. For you are my lamp, O Lord.the Lord shall enlighten my darkness, -2 Samuel 22:29"
As someone who has suffered from recurrent depression, I cringed when I read your question. I sympathize with people who are trying to be a good friend to someone with depression. Those who don't have depression will not completely understand how the depressed person feels. It would be like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind. Even though the friend may not totally understand the mental illness, they can comfort a depressed friend.
Depression alters the person's perceptions about the world and themselves. A person who is depressed typically struggles with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. With these symptoms, encouraging quotes such as Bible verses may be beneficial.
However, the friend needs to understand that depression colors the person's perception. Even if the depressed person may have found comfort in the Bible in the past, they may feel judged, preached at, and generally misunderstood if a friend is pelting them with Bible verses in response to their depression.
I've had friends tell me to "snap out of it" or other statements meant to encourage me to just stop being depressed. Friends need to understand that depression is a biological illness. The clinically depressed person cannot "snap out of it" any more than a person with diabetes can decide not to have diabetes any more.
Quoting Bible verses can sound like you are telling your friend that they need to decide to stop being depressed which is impossible with clinical depression. The depressed person needs treatment to learn to manage the mental illness. Helping someone with depression can be a challenge, but there are some things that a friend can do to encourage strength and healing.
How can someone comfort a depressed friend?
Actively Listen: When the person talks about the illness or feelings, listen and let them know that you understand how difficult it must be. People with this disorder often have difficulty talking about it at all, so be thankful that the friend wants you to understand what living in depression is like.
Support: Let the friend know that you are available. You can feel free to set boundaries such as times to call, but let the person know you are a friend and willing to help even if it is just to listen.
Encourage Depression Management and Healing: Many people are ashamed to get help from a therapist or psychiatrist, but both these professionals can be crucial for depression management. If the depressed friend is refusing treatment, challenge that decision in the same way you might challenge the decision if friends told you they had cancer and were refusing chemotherapy. Discuss the decision and your concerns. Ultimately, the decisions about treatment are the friend's decision to make. That decision needs to be respected, but a friend can share the concerns about that decision while it is being discussed.
Educate: If the friend is feeling guilty for being depressed, help them find information about depression. If the friend's family is anything like mine, the depression is clearly biological and hereditary as the depression goes back several generations to a time before depression was recognized as a mental illness. Help the friend understand that depression is caused by abnormal levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Depression is not a sign of weakness or a spiritual failure.
Seek Help Together: Hospitals and mental health organizations hold support groups about depression that are free to the community. These support groups often welcome friends and family who are trying to understand depression. Attending one of these groups with your friend could be extremely helpful for both of you.