How Do You Help a Friend Who’s Depressed?

Image credit: Marta Esteban Fernando

It may be dangerous to go alone, but how do we help the people around us so they don’t have to get through their problems by themselves? That’s the question our clinical director Dr. B., Raffael Boccamazzo, answers this month at Geek & Sundry.

Major depressive disorder is something well-meaning people often want to fix. But many people don’t realize that having depression isn’t just sadness. According to one model, it involves irrational thoughts about one’s self, the world, and the future (i.e. “I’m a terrible person, people suck, and this will never get better.”) Sadness is an honest reaction to a sad event. Contrariwise, in the words of Wil Wheaton, “Depression lies.”

The irrational nature of depression can leave people frustrated that they can’t figure out why they’re depressed. They struggle to find the meaning of it all, and the fact that they can’t sometimes leads to a downward spiral of worsening self-perceptions, confusion, and hopelessness. When friends or loved ones try to fix the problem, it can go like this: “You must know what’s wrong. No? Really? Well, whatever. Let’s go out. It’ll make you feel better.” Even worse, people might say things like, “You need to buck up and get over it.” These both can feel incredibly invalidating, as if they’re saying, “I know what’s best for you. You don’t.” This can send the subtle message that the person is weak and helpless, which can end up deepening the depressive episode.


Dr. B. shares several solid ideas for both how you can help a friend who’s dealing with depression and how you can deal with the well-meaning (but not always helpful) assistance that’s sometimes offered when you’re depressed. Visit Geek & Sundry to learn more, and be sure to check out our previous Year of Mental Health articles while you’re there.

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