Think Your Friend Is Depressed? Here's What To Say (And What Not To)

If you’re worried that something’s wrong with your friend — but aren’t sure what exactly — here’s what experts say you should do. (Photo: Getty Images/Photodisc)

Suddenly you’re noticing that your best friend’s not acting like herself. Her usual upbeat attitude is replaced with sadness; she’s lacking motivation at work, and isn’t interested in spending time with friends when she used to be the life of the party. 

Sure, everyone feels sad or worried at times, but when it interferes with quality of life, that can be concerning. So how do you tell your friend she needs help?

“You cannot force someone to see a therapist or deal with their issues,” explains Brooke Denner, LMHC, s psychotherapist in Woodbury, NY. “But you can say that you noticed a change in them, if it comes from a place of genuine compassion and concern.”

So what do you say when you’re worried about your friend, but aren’t quite sure what’s the matter? Here are some dos and don’ts for helping the situation:

DO: Approach your friend one-on-one in a safe space.

Remember that you are not there to tell her to make a change, but to let her know that you are concerned and want to be there for her if she wants help. “You can only offer support, but it’s their decision to use that support,” Denner tells Yahoo Health.

DON’T: Attack your friend or express any judgment of her behaviors.  

Take clinical depression, for example. Most people don’t know what it actually is, so it’s better not to tell a friend that she is depressed. Instead, explain what you’re noticing with “I” sentences, Denner recommends. You can say “I noticed you didn’t want to come to Sarah’s birthday dinner when you’re usually excited for these events,” or “I see that you are anxious to go to work each morning.” Leave room in the conversation for your friend to justify what has been going on.

Related: Dear Friend, This Is Depression

DO: Encourage your friend to talk to a professional.

If your friend starts to treat you like her personal therapist, it’s important to let her know there are professional resources available. Ask if she is talking to anyone other than you or if she has considered going to therapy. Normalize the experience by explaining therapy as a place she can go to vent. “Therapy can be for bold and directed conversations, but sometimes it’s just me-time — like getting a massage or getting your hair done,” Denner explains. “It’s a place for you to have an unbiased person to talk to and there is nothing wrong with giving it a try.”

DO: Be supportive if your friend chooses to go to therapy.

Though attending therapy with your friend isn’t necessary, you can offer to help look up resources, or drive her to the appointment, says Nikki Barnes, MSW, LSW, LCAC, a psychotherapist in Lebanon, Indiana. “Just being there to sit in the waiting room is a way to provide morale support,” she adds.

Related: Talk Therapy Substantially Reduces Suicide Risk, Study Finds

DO: Continue to be there for your friend, even if it’s hard.

Even though you are offering support, your friend may get defensive about her situation.  “Continue to be supportive, but back off at that point and try again at a later time,” Barnes says. “Your goal of the initial conversation is to let your friend know that you care and are there for them in a non-judgmental manner.”

DON’T: Be afraid to take action if you think your friend is in danger.

It’s all right to approach the situation slowly, unless you feel that your friend is at risk of hurting herself or someone else.  If you feel like they are in danger, it’s important to take immediate action, such as calling 911 or consulting a professional.  

Available hotlines to call:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

  • Girls & Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000

  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-422-4673

  • Parachute NYC: 646-741-HOPE

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