Major depressive disorder can be all-consuming. As a friend of someone with this condition, there are a few key ways you can support them and help them find some relief from their symptoms.

Major depressive disorder, also known simply as depression, can be challenging to live with. Characterized by a persistent sense of sadness and disinterest, the disorder can make it hard to find the motivation to complete basic tasks and feel pleasure and joy in daily life. However, major depressive disorder impacts more than just the person who has it. Being close to someone who has the disorder can affect your life too.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the country, with nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults experiencing at least one major depressive episode a year. With so many people struggling, it’s possible that you have at least one friend living with depression.

Whether your friend is participating in treatment or has yet to receive a clinical diagnosis, it’s hard to watch someone you care about suffer. You may wonder if you’re doing everything you can to help them, or if you’re inadvertently making them feel worse overall. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to “fix” your friend, you can educate yourself about their condition, learn how to support them in meaningful ways and help them seek treatment if they need it.

Recognizing Major Depressive Disorder

Even if you’re close with someone with major depression, they may be hesitant to discuss their condition with you. Many people with depression are ashamed of their sadness and feel personally responsible for not being able to “snap out of it.” Others may avoid reaching out for fear of burdening or worrying their loved ones. In some cases, the person with depression may not realize that they have a mental health condition, and be too overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and hopelessness to be able to pinpoint what’s causing them.

Identifying major depressive disorder can be tricky because symptoms can vary widely from person to person. However, if you know your friend well, you’ll likely notice significant shifts in their behavior and mood. These changes may be signs of a major depressive disorder.

Some of the most common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Persistent apathy or lack of motivation
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Sleeping too little (insomnia) or too much
  • Fixation on past failures
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irritability or frustration over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Changes in appetite that can either result in the person eating significantly more or significantly less than usual
  • Moving or speaking slowly

One of the most significant signs and risks of major depressive disorder is suicidal ideation. If your friend frequently mentions death or suicide, it’s crucial that you take them seriously. Mood disorders, such as depression, can dramatically increase a person’s risk of suicide.

If your friend is suicidal, perform mental health first aid or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all calls are confidential and toll-free.

Supporting a Friend with Major Depressive Disorder

Navigating the best ways to help a friend with depression can be tricky even when you have the best of intentions. Fortunately, there are many measures you can take to support a friend with major depressive disorder.

  • Learn more about depression. If you’ve never experienced a depressive episode, it can be hard to understand what having the disorder is like. Taking the time to inform yourself about major depressive disorder can give you a better idea of what they’re going through.
  • Understand that depression is a medical condition. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different. Like a physical disease, depression is linked to biological factors outside your friend’s control. And like many other medical conditions, lifelong depression is possible. Accepting and validating these facts can help your friend feel understood and accepted.
  • Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t. Depression is not the same as sadness. If you’ve never experienced depression firsthand, you can’t truly understand what your friend is feeling. Instead of giving unsolicited advice or drawing inaccurate comparisons to your own experience, let your friend know that you care about them and you’re available to listen.
  • Be there for them unconditionally. When you ask your friend how they’re doing, they may tell you they’re struggling more often than not. While it’s natural to want your friend to be better, it’s important that you accept that things may be difficult for them most of the time. Instead of responding with disappointment, make sure they know that you’re always there for them, no matter how they’re feeling.
  • Lend a hand. Depression can make it difficult to tend to basic chores, like doing laundry, cooking meals and cleaning. If you notice your friend struggling with these, offer to help and ask them if there’s anything else you can do for them. While it might be difficult for your friend to know the best way for you to support them in the moment, asking will show them that you care and want to help in any way you can.
  • Spend time with them. Depression can be an incredibly isolating condition. If you know your friend is struggling, make an effort to make plans with them. Isolation can be dangerous for someone who is depressed. Even just relaxing with someone they care about and watching a movie or listening to music can provide some temporary relief.

Talking to Your Friend About Treatment

If one of your friends is grappling with depression, one of the best things you can do for them is help them seek treatment. However, going about this can be difficult. You don’t want to make your loved one feel embarrassed or criticized, nor do you want to sound condescending.

These five key tips can help you plan your conversation with your friend about them seeking treatment for their major depressive disorder:

  1. Start the discussion by telling your friend that you care about them. Let them know that you see that they are struggling, and assure them that their condition is not their fault
  2. Explain the ways that professional care can help. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment.
  3. Suggest that they talk to their doctor about seeing a counselor. Alternatively, you can research clinicians yourself ahead of time and have them on hand for your friend to consider.
  4. Express your willingness to help them find treatment. Offer to make their first appointment with a counselor or psychiatrist for them or to accompany them to their first visit. Taking these steps alone can be overwhelming for someone with depression and knowing you care enough may give them the motivation they need to start treatment.
  5. Remember that participation in treatment hinges on the wishes of your friend. You cannot force them to seek help if they don’t want to. If they are initially resistant to the idea of treatment, be patient. With so much stigma surrounding mental health, it can take time for some people to accept that they need help. Ultimately, the decision is your friend’s to make.

While professional treatment can benefit anyone with depression, it’s particularly crucial if your loved one grapples with major depressive disorder and addiction. In these cases, co-occurring care that addresses both conditions is key to long-lasting recovery.

With locations across the country, The Recovery Village provides evidence-based care for dual diagnosis depression and addiction. If you’d like more information about treatment for yourself or a friend, reach out today. Representative are available on the line 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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By – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “What Is Depression?” Accessed February 15, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression.” Accessed February 15, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Does depression increase the risk for suicide?” Accessed February 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.