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How do I know if my friend is depressed?  

Most people who are depressed have difficulty talking about it.  People can be very good at hiding depression, but there are little changes that you can be aware of. 

A person who usually has a bubbly personality can still present as bubbly when depressed, but if he begins to turn down social invitations that he ordinarily would have accepted, starts only engaging only in “small talk” where he used to be more involved in conversation, doesn’t listen to music much anymore, or any other small changes in behaviour are present, and you notice these changes have been present almost daily for at least two weeks, then your friend could be depressed.

Talking to a friend who is depressed can be difficult.  There are some helpful and unhelpful things to be aware of before you attempt it.  It’s helpful if you tell your friend how important they are to you, and that you’ll be there for them if they ever need you.  It’s not helpful to tell them that others have it harder or that that’s life.  Make yourself available for them in ways that make them feel safe and comfortable talking to you.  Don’t tell them to stop feeling sorry for themselves and get on with it.  Telling them that they’re not alone, depression is quite common, is one thing; telling them lots of people are depressed, just get over it, is quite another.  Telling them to try not to be depressed isn’t helpful.  It actually implies that it’s their fault that they’re depressed.  Don’t turn the conversation to yourself by talking about how you’ve been depressed before, or have known someone else who was depressed, and describing those experiences in detail.  The friend will need you to listen, not hit him with tales from the dark side.  Don’t tell them to stop crying and get back into the fun life, because that will make it all better… won’t.

It can be difficult to stop yourself from trying to “fix it” for your friend, but the one thing that you can do which has real value is listen and let them know that you value their friendship.  Tell them why you value their friendship.  Help them to understand that you really do get positive things from having them in your life.  Then, talk to them about getting help, but keep it simple.  The first port of call should be their GP.  Sometimes, depression is the result of physical illness, chemical imbalances, or hormonal changes, so it’s always good to be able to rule out anything medical.  The GP might try a course of anti-depressants, but that isn’t where it stops.  As your friend is taking them, he should also be talking to a therapist.  These days, doctors who are stretched to the limit with heavy caseloads insist on patients doing self-referrals for therapy, which takes time, phone calls, and paperwork, and the waiting lists are miles long.  This can be difficult for anyone, more so if the person is struggling with self-worth.  Private therapists who are willing to work with your budget are available if the waiting time seems to be too long; but again, it takes a little time to find them.  You probably can’t find the solution for your friend, but you can continue to support him while he is going through that process.  The main thing for people who have friends who are depressed to remember is that it doesn’t help if you overwhelm them with advice, healthcare tips, or lots of things you’ve downloaded from the internet on the subject.  Don’t try to educate them on what depression is or how to fix it.  Just be there for them and listen.

It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself.  It’s not often talked about, but a person can get what is known as “compassion fatigue”.  This is a form of burn-out experienced by people who give support to others, whether that’s for mental health, physical illness, or disability.  If the supporting person doesn’t take care of himself, he can become fatigued.  This causes people to start avoiding the person they’ve been supporting if at all possible, to lose patience with the person, and to perhaps sometimes say or do things that they later regret.  Self-care is important for all of us, but if you’re helping to support someone who is depressed, it’s even more so.  Make sure that your friend has the number to mental health support lines so that he has other options for support besides you, and set boundaries for yourself so that you have time to rest.  This will help you both.

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