How to Talk to a Friend About Their Depression

Watching a friend succumb to depression is heartbreaking. At first, you may even question your assessment of the situation, and you may eventually wonder if you are overreacting. Chances are that you are not overreacting, so, the sooner you talk about the elephant in the room, the better your friend’s chances of recovering become. However, before you break the silence, first understand what defines depression as a mental health condition and then learn how you can help your friend.

Get the Facts: Depression 101

Differentiating depression from a normal bout of sadness is tricky. Everyone experiences periods of sadness, particularly from troubling events such as the loss of a loved one, job difficulties, money problems, family issues or illness. These problems usher in seasons of painful introspection and sometimes isolation, but the clouds clear most of the time; with or without treatment, these feelings typically improve. However, depression works differently, as its key component is that the pervasive feeling of sadness exists most days for a period of two weeks. Healthcare professionals at Mental Health America also identify the following symptoms as those of depression[1]:

  • Prolonged sadness or irritability
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse
  • Taking longer to complete tasks
  • Sleeping too long or not long enough
  • Fluctuations in appetite

Harvard Medical School professors explain that, although depression is often fingered as the result from a chemical imbalance, that figure of speech fails to capture how complex the disease is[2]. Research suggests that depression does not spring from having too much or too little of a certain brain chemical; rather, it has any of the following possible causes:

  • Faulty mood regulation by the brain
  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Stressful life events
  • Medications
  • Medical problems

Several of these forces can interact to bring on depression, so, while chemicals are involved in this process, it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, many chemicals are involved both inside and outside nerve cells. Millions, even billions of chemical reactions make up the dynamic system that governs mood, perceptions and how one experiences life.

Friend First Aid: Step One

Breaking the ice is your first line of business to recovering from depression. If your perception is correct and your friend is open to your talk, then the conversation may come as a huge relief. The fact that you recognize your friend’s suffering may provide the validation she needs to seek professional help. On the other hand, you may butt up against a wall of resistance if you approach someone who refuses to discuss her issues. The truth is that many people would rather ignore mental health problems by simply hoping they will pass with time. However, time may only make depression worse, but your friend may refuse to take action for fear of the stigmatization associated with having mental health problems. She may also believe the myth that mental disorders are rare and happen to crazy people.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic argue that, if your friend is in denial, then you can expect him to respond to you in somewhat predictable ways[3]. Denial is a failure to be realistic about something that is happening to you that may be obvious to others, and examples of it include the following behaviors:

  • Avoiding facts
  • Ignoring signs that are obvious to others
  • Minimizing emotional pain

If denial erects a roadblock, then curiosity may help you break through to your friend. First, get permission to ask a few questions, but communicate your respect for your friend and your humility. Make it clear that you are not playing armchair psychologist by diagnosing your friend; rather, invite her to explore the issue with you by looking through common screening questions. Agreeing with any of the following statements may reveal the need for professional help:

  • I do things slowly
  • My future seems hopeless
  • It is hard for me to concentrate on reading
  • The pleasure and joy has gone out of my life
  • I have difficulty making decisions
  • I have lost interest in aspects of life that used to be important to me
  • I feel sad, blue and unhappy
  • I am agitated and keep moving around
  • I feel fatigued

If your friend identifies with some of these common warning signs, then encourage him to seek professional help, because the consequences of ignoring a mental problem can be deadly. NBC news reports that as many as 45 million Americans experience psychiatric illnesses such as depression each year[4]. Those who avoid treatment are 15 times more likely to suffer from injury, substance abuse problems and violence, including suicide. In response to this information, encourage your friend to take another path and reach out to professionals. Depression is highly treatable, which means there is no need to prolong suffering by trying to go it alone.

Talking to other people about your experiences can lift the fog. Also, support groups for depressed people can show your friend that she is not alone. It can also connect her with resources that have been vetted by other group members. Best of all, by speaking out and getting help, your friend will find hope that, no matter how severe depression may get or how painful negative emotions may feel, tackling the problem in new ways can bring healing, health and wholeness.

Help for Mental Illness and Alcoholism

You can recover from depression and break free from alcoholism. Admissions coordinators are available at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline—they can explore your treatment options and answer your questions, so do not go it alone when help is so readily available. Call now for instant, professional support.


[1] Retrieved from

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[4] Retrieved from

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