How to be a good friend to someone who has depression

Jamie* has lived with a depressed housemate for a few years, and seems to have a pretty excellent system worked out. He tells ‘You need to constantly be on the lookout for signs of the beginning of a depressive episode, that means checking on her to see how she’s feeling, watching her energy levels, both physical and emotional.

‘If I think I see signs of an episode then I’ll try to do something to head it off, if she has been having a tough day at work and I’m home before her, I’ll light lots of candles and download some of her favourite shows. I put more candles in the bathroom and as soon as she walks in the door I take her bags from her and tell her to have a nice hot shower.’

Um, where can we get Jamies for everyone, please?

‘If we can’t prevent [an episode] then the most important thing is to not make her feel responsible for being depressed. On the bad days we just wrap up in a duvet and sit together on the couch.

‘When she moved in that was the hardest thing; she wanted to shut herself away on bad days so she wouldn’t be a burden, but I always insist on being with her on the bad days; not trying to fix her or cheer her up, just sitting with her so she knows I’m there.

‘Sometimes I’ll tell her silly stories or talk about fun times we’ve had together. Just to remind her as much as possible that as bad as things are, this is temporary.’

Over the years of his friendship, Jamie’s practiced the crucial element of not making somebody feel responsible for their depression. If your mate has the norovirus, do you say that they’re bringing it on themselves and it’s not that bad really? If a friend has a chest infection, do you tell them it’s probably not as bad as they’re making it out to be in their own head? (If you do, please give yourself a shake, re-read this piece and then say in the mirror three times, ‘I am a crapbag.’)

I’m also touched by Jamie’s willingness to just be there for his mate.

Depression is a stagnant, sticky, thick syrupy pool of hell that it’s often near impossible to get out of, and even the most foolish puppy videos in the world won’t shift it. Don’t feel bad if your efforts aren’t making a visible difference – but do rein it in a bit, and just exist with your friend. Be alone, but together – and probably not in a pub, if you can help it, says Emma.

‘If you’re meeting up with a friend that you know is struggling, steer away from just drinking,’ she tells us. ‘Sure, booze will lifts spirits in the short term (which might make you feel more comfortable) but getting a depressed friend drunk is not a kind thing to do as it will make the depression worse the next day. If that person is already taking antidepressants (and you can’t always know this) alcohol, in even small quantities, can make them black out. Meet them for lunch instead or suggest a walk.’

‘You have to be prepared to carry two people if depression hits,’ says Jamie. ‘It can be exhausting and frustrating because you love this person and nothing you do will make them better, but that’s when you have to learn to do nothing but just be there.

‘If you try to cheer someone up and it’s not working you can actually make them feel worse as they might feel guilty for not responding to your attempts to make them feel better.

‘You need to let them know that you don’t think they’re to blame for being depressed and not being able to go somewhere or do something, anymore than someone on crutches is to blame for not being able to climb lots to stairs or walk up steep hills.’

Yes, depression is complicated and isolating and frightening. It’s f***ing annoying – and you can bet that your depressed mate thinks so, too. They may seem like they’re sacking you off; ignoring messages, declining invites and staying locked in their room – but please don’t leave them. Just knowing that someone’s there for them can save their life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you can find a qualified local counsellor in your area with Counselling Directory . Mental health charity Mind also offer counselling services, and you can call The Samaritans on 116123 (UK and ROI). The NHS even have a little quiz you can take. If you can, visit your GP for further advice.

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