How to help a depressed friend through their illness and recovery

When your friend has depression it can be hard to know what to do.

If they’re struggling to get out of bed, unable to take pleasure in things that they used to love and generally withdrawing from the world – it can make you feel incredibly helpless.

But this is the time when they need their friends the most. Even if it seems like they don’t want to see you or talk to you.

Mental illness is tricky, and you don’t want to do or say the wrong thing – but avoiding them altogether is the worst possible thing you can do.

Social isolation can make mental illness even worse – but caring for a friend with depression is an enduring act of love and requires dedication and work that is very often thankless. So you’ve just got to take one for the team.

How to help a friend with depression

There are lots of strategies you can use to help your friend feel loved, supported and understood.

Support from friends and family can be hugely influential in helping someone recover.

But there’s no one way for somebody to get better and it’s important not to force anyone into speaking up or getting help – the best you can do is be super available and empower them to seek help if they feel ready.

Just be there

Whether that’s physically coming to visit them, regularly checking in with WhatsApp messages or phone calls – they need to know that you’re available and that it’s OK to talk about how they’re feeling.

And if they can’t talk about it with you, help to find professional resources and encourage them to make an appointment.

Caroline Hounsell, director of partnerships product development and training at Mental Health First Aid England told us recently: ‘Let them know that you’re there to talk and that there are sources of further support and resources available.

‘This could be via their local GP in the first instance, Employee Assistance Programmes through their workplace, or services like the Samaritans.’


Being there is one thing, but actually listening is another.

Sometimes people don’t want a barrage of possible solutions, they just want to feel heard. So before you jump in with a million suggestions to help with your friend’s recovery, make sure you spend time listening to what they’re actually going through.

‘Try and listen non-judgementally and empathetically and give them your full focus,’ says Caroline.

‘Remember to respect that their experiences and values may be different to yours and take care not to express judgement or criticism because of your own attitudes and beliefs.’

Be mindful of symptoms

Depression symptoms are varied, numerous and different for everyone – and they may effect what your friend feels up to doing.

Some people experience unexplained aches and pains, headaches and insomnia, all of which can effect their energy. So rather than suggesting a huge walk in the countryside – they might just want a movie day on the sofa.

‘Some people will be noticeably withdrawn and show signs of weight gain or weight loss, lack of sleep, lack of energy, but not everyone will fit this picture,’ says counsellor Katerina Georgiou.

‘Different people have different coping strategies for what they’re going through and so the biggest tip is not to interpret, [or] judge a depressed person’s experience.’

Lay off the pressure

Pressurising someone with depression can be the exact opposite of helpful.

You want to be helpful and supportive, but not overbearing. Making them feel guilty if they don’t feel up to meeting up, for example. Or pushing them to get help when they don’t feel ready.

‘To give an example, if they haven’t done their dishes, don’t do the dishes for them, but equally don’t pressurise them to do it or get angry,’ says Katerina.

‘Simply give them confidence that they’ll be able to do it in their own time. Let them know that if they need a hand, they just need ask.’

Send them meaningful messages

Avoid clichés or generic words of wisdom – your friend doesn’t need advice that they can find on a Pinterest board – make it personalised and real.

Or sometimes they just want to hear something funny or lighthearted. Just because they have depression, that doesn’t mean that every interaction has to be about that.

And remember to keep it positive. It can be easy to feel frustration when you care deeply about someone, but always remember that what they are going through isn’t their fault.

The Mind website has some great advice on this: ‘Don’t be critical. If you’ve not experienced depression yourself, it can be hard to understand why your friend or family member can’t just “snap out of it”.

‘Try not to blame them or put too much pressure on them to get better straight away – your loved one is probably being very critical and harsh towards themselves already. Mind’s information about depression can help you learn more about it.

‘Listen carefully, don’t judge and most of all, don’t say, “cheer up.” It’s just not that simple. Sometimes solutions are unnecessary, so don’t feel you have to provide one.’

Look after yourself too

You will only be in a position to help someone else if you are also looking after yourself.

Supporting a friend with depression can be draining, so make sure you’re maintaining your own well-being, making time for yourself and getting enough sleep.

It’s vital for both you and your friend that you are physically and mentally well.

Mental Health questions answered

Google’s most-asked mental health questions in 2019 so far:

According to Google, the most frequently asked ‘how to’ questions relating to mental health this year so far are:

1. How to relieve stress
2. How to help anxiety
3. How to stop worrying
4. How to stop a panic attack
5. How to deal with stress
6. How to cope with depression
7. How to know if you have anxiety
8. How to know if you have depression
9. How to help someone with PTSD
10. How to overcome social anxiety
11. How to get help for depression
12. How to treat OCD
13. How to help a depressed friend
14. How to overcome a phobia
15. How to treat PTSD

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