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How to Help a Friend who’s Depressed

Depression is a difficult experience to deal with and the support of a friend can be invaluable. It can shine a ray of hope, make you feel you’re not alone, and help to bolster your faltering self-esteem. However, a healthy balanced friendship has some healthy boundaries, too, and knowing what those are can make us more effective friends. For example:

1. There are times when we need guidance or some tips from others as we want to learn new skills, or to change and grow. For example, if it’s a poor assignment grade, or we keep losing friends then a friend who knows us well can sometimes share what they’ve observed. But before you dive in and give unwelcome advice, make sure your friend’s receptive and will take it the right way! Don’t just blurt out your opinion without being asked.

2. Related to this, ask your friend what they need, or what they’d like from you – as they may not even know, and this will help focus their thinking. You can then decide if you can give them what they need (like practical help or some tips for studying). If they can’t answer your question, you may end up being used - and become a dumping ground for their negativity. This is clearly detrimental for both of you.   

3. If you’re asked to share your thoughts, do it tentatively … Like “This worked for me … but we’re all different …” Or, ask her what has worked, and what hasn’t worked, before – as we often have the answers … It’s just hard to face the truth!

4. Whereas it’s good to listen and to be understanding, we also need to know when it’s time to withdraw. For example, if your friend is always negative and never seems to change then you may, inadvertently, be helping keep her stuck (by always being there, so she doesn’t have to change). Yet at the end of the day, we each choose the life we’ll live … We can stay a helpless victim or we can take up the reins, and assume control of our lives and destiny.

5. True friendship is based on meeting both parties’ needs. And though at times we will give more if a friend has a real need, if one person’s always taking then the friendship is unhealthy. That is, you’re not their personal therapist or human dumping ground. You need to recognise what’s happening and put up boundaries – like limiting the time you make available to them. To find solutions to their problems and move on with their life, your friend needs the skills of a detached professional …. And that is very different from being a good friend.       

Filed under counselling psychology therapy mental health mental illness relationships depression mood disorders self help self improvement online counselling college

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