Depression can be an incredibly isolating illness. When we’re depressed, it can be hard for us to speak to our friends. We worry about bringing them down, feel awkward and embarrassed, and don’t know how to explain how we’re feeling. We may try and isolate ourselves, as it seems easier than maintaining a friendship – a friendship we may believe we no longer deserve.
Being a friend to someone with depression can be difficult too. It’s painful to see someone we care about struggling. We desperately want to help but are unsure how. We know the importance of being a friendly ear – but if our friend doesn’t want to talk, or we don’t know what to say, conversation can dry up. We may be looking for more hands-on ways of offering support.
Below we outline some practical things that might help a friend who is living with depression. Some caution is needed before we launch into action, however. What one friend might find helpful, another could find patronising or intrusive. If in doubt, it’s always worth asking our friends before we try and help them. Even if they don’t want our help, they will be touched that we asked.
If we want to offer practical support to our friend, the first thing we can do is ask them how we can help. They might not be able to think of anything – in which case we can offer some of the options below.
However there might be something that’s been stressing them out, or a task they’re really behind with; in which case our help with it may be really appreciated.
Be An Advocate
Sometimes our friend may struggle to get the help they need because they feel too overwhelmed, or can’t articulate what’s happening in their heads. In which case, they may appreciate a friend joining them at appointments, or speaking to services on their behalf. This can help them get the support they need.
When we’re low or lacking in energy, cleaning is one of the things that can go out of the window. But this feeds into us feeling rubbish about ourselves: we look at our surroundings and wonder why we can’t get it together to tidy up.
If they’re happy for us to, giving a friend a hand around the house – washing up, putting the bins out, giving the kitchen a quick wipe round – can make a massive difference to their mood. Clearing clutter can make life feel less overwhelming and stressful.
When we have no energy or motivation, cooking can be a real challenge. Thinking through recipes can be impossible when our brains feel like sludge. We often resort to ready-made food, which is fine every now and again, but can make us feel rubbish after a while. Sometimes, we struggle to eat enough at all, which can also impact our mood.
Coming round and helping our friend cook, or cooking for them, can help them improve their diet which in turn may help their mood. Bringing over extra portions of nutritious batch-cooked meals, like curries or soups or stews in tupperware or takeaway containers might also be appreciated. They can be kept in the freezer for no-energy days, and then quickly zapped in the microwave.
Don’t Give Up
Depression can be relentless and recovery is never a straight line. There will be many ups and downs. It might take your friend a long time to start to recover. They might do well for a while then relapse.
Depression can be boring, hard to deal with and frustrating at times. But as impossible as it might feel to us looking on, it will feel ten times more impossible to our friend. Please don’t give up on them.
Depression can remover the joy from everything. It can steal our motivation and energy so we stop doing the things we used to enjoy. Everything seems pointless and futile anyway.
Encouraging our friend to do the things they used to enjoy, or even doing them with them, may be helpful. Even if they don’t enjoy the activities like they used to, doing something different can help them feel less isolated and empty.
Whether it’s picking up a prescription, filling out paperwork, or something else, we all have errands that we need to do. They can stack up until they feel completely overwhelming.
Helping our friend cross some items off their to-do list can help them feel less overwhelmed, and may make tackling the other errands on their list feel more possible.
Find Local Services
There are lots of different types of therapy available. Sometimes there are charities or non-NHS services nearby that may be able to provide additional support on top of what the NHS can offer. They might be more specific to our situation than general mental health support. But when our brains are on go-slow, it’s hard to research these services.
It can be helpful then to research local services on our friends behalf. A quick internet search might result in some options our friend hadn’t considered, which could be just what they need to get back on their feet.
Fresh air and a bit of exercise can help to improve our mood, but when we’re unwell it can be really hard to find the courage or motivation to leave the house.
Taking our friend outside for a wander, driving them somewhere calming like a secluded beach or at the very least encouraging them to open their windows, can offer a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Going Out For Coffee (or other drink of choice)
If our friend feels able to, meeting up with them in a café can be a positive experience for them. It encourages them to get out of bed, get dressed, and get out of the house. It gives us the chance to catch up. We don’t need to have a serious, mental health focussed chat; even general chit chat can help us to feel connected with the world and each other.
Help Us Write Lists For Appointments
When our heads feel foggy, it’s hard to remember the things we need to speak to health professionals about.
Helping our friend write a list of all the things they need to talk about can be really helpful. They can take the list to their appointments, so they feel less anxious about forgetting anything, and can maximise the time they have available.
If our friend lives alone – or even if they live with others – they might not get hugs very often. If we have a “huggy” relationship with them, a proper hug whenever we see them may well be appreciated.
Joint Food Shopping
If it’s convenient, we can invite our friend food shopping with us. This can help them in a few ways. It forces our friend to do the job rather than procrastinating it for yet another day. It can remove any problems associated with getting to the shops. And it can help them get fresh mood-boosting food in the house. On top of that, you get to spend time together.
If we shop online, we can still invite our friend to join in with us. Even though this essentially means sitting in the same room on different laptops, it still helps. We can support our friend in making decisions what to buy (decisions can be very difficult when we’re depressed). It makes an overwhleming job less of a chore.
Laughter can be lacking when depression strikes. Depression recovery isn’t as simple as ‘just cheering up’. However, doing things to help our friend laugh can lift their mood. It could be watching a funny film, texting funny memes, watching some comedy on TV, playing Twister, or bringing a 3-year-old round. We all find different things funny.
Giving our friend lifts to places can remove a barrier from going to appointments or doing jobs. If they have to rely on public transport, the thought involved in planning it can feel overwhelming so they just don’t bother. If they have to walk or cycle, the energy involved in doing so can mean they don’t bother. Even if they have a car, they might not feel well enough to drive, or might keep procrastinating the things they need to do.
As well as removing a layer of stress about getting to places, giving our friend a lift offers them some company, a chance to catch up briefly, and a little bit of moral support.
Somewhere To Stay
At times, our friend might struggle to feel safe in their house, or might just need a break. Staying overnight at someone else’s house can give them company and some respite from their head for an evening.
Trashy Movies (Or Other Distractions)
Putting on a rubbish movie can offer a welcome distraction for a few hours. If movies aren’t our friend’s bag, another low energy activity that doesn’t require much thought could also be a welcome distraction. Drop them a text and suggest something, or ask them if there’s something they’d like to meet up and do.
Whether we’re at home or in hospital, it’s always nice to know that people care. Depression feeds us lies and tells us that people don’t like us and don’t want to spend time with us. Plus we often stop spending time with people because we don’t want to bring them down.
Visiting a friend can help them shut down this worry. Our presence reminds them that they are loved and that people do care.
For more ideas on helping a friend with depression, we have a guide to Supporting Someone With Depression, which is free to download: https://www.blurtitout.org/blurts-guide-supporting-someone-depression.
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