Mental and emotional resilience has been a challenge that most of us have faced over the past year as we have navigated the changes and uncertainty of the pandemic. During times of hardship, it’s often close friends and loved ones who we turn to for support, and we haven’t been able to connect as easily with them during this time. Depression is becoming a more common problem in our communities. We may have heard how to help a child or teen struggling with depression, but how can we help a friend or peer who may be experiencing depression or other emotional hardships? Increasing awareness of the common signs of depression is crucial while many of us are physically distanced from those we care about. The more that we learn about depression, familiarize ourselves with signs, and get comfortable with talking about it, the more skillful we will become supporting those who need it.
How to recognize symptoms of depression
For people who may not have experienced depression in the past but may be facing new challenges due to the pandemic, some common signs of depression might include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anger, guilt and helplessness. Depression can show up in visible, expected ways, but it does not always look the same for each person and there are also some subtle signs to keep an eye out for.
|More common signs/symptoms||Subtle signs to watch out for|
|Lasting sad, anxious or empty mood||Not responding to texts, emails or calls|
|Weight or appetite changes||Withdrawal|
|Changes in sleeping patterns||Frequent complaints of aches and pains|
|Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed||Less energy than usual|
|Increased restlessness and/or irritability||May be neglecting basic hygiene|
|Persistent feeling of hopelessness||Confusion, memory problems, forgetfulness|
|Poor concentration or focus||Anger and Irritability|
|Thoughts of suicide or self-harm||Being late or missing appointments/commitments|
Supporting someone who may have depression symptoms
If you become aware that a friend or peer is showing common signs or symptoms of depression, your caring support may be more important in helping them than you realize. Part of supporting someone with depression is knowing what might be beneficial and also what to avoid during interactions.
- Listen, but don’t try to fix everything. By being an active listener and showing interest in the conversation, you show you care. Being present for someone (even in a phone or video call) and allowing them the space to share what is going on with them, while free of judgment can be very helpful. Our first impulse is often to work to find solutions to other’s troubles to ease their pain. Instead, try to practice listening without offering solutions or advice, and validate their feelings and experience by saying something like, “that does sound really difficult. I’m sorry that you’ve been experiencing that.” It’s important not to minimize the difficulty of their experiences or brush them off, and to remind them that they’re not alone.
- Offer to help with some everyday tasks to lighten their load. Most people understand that the effects of stress and many months of emotional hardship can feel draining. With depression, this feeling can be increased, making it difficult for people to get their basic to-do lists taken care of. Instead of asking how you can help, ask your friend what they need help with specifically, or offer tasks that you could do for them. This could include making a few meals for them, doing laundry, grocery shopping, paying a bill, etc.
- Stay in touch and extend loose invitations. Because those with depression may struggle to make and keep commitments and plans, they may receive fewer invitations to socialize. Continue to invite them knowing that they may not follow through, and include a note that it’s okay if they’re not up for it right now. Even if you notice them becoming more withdrawn, check in regularly with your friend or loved one just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- Take care of yourself too. Being there for a friend or loved one who is depressed often makes us want to do everything we can to support them, even if that means overlooking our own needs. It’s important to take notice if we need to take some time to recharge, letting our friend or loved one know when we will be available again.
- Support them in seeking treatment but don’t give advice. It can be challenging to find a mental health provider who you align with, and to navigate the insurance system. The process of finding the right provider for each person can take time and it’s important to be persistent, yet caring in your encouragement of your friend to seek assistance. There are also many providers offering sessions for those with low-income concerns.
If you find yourself in need of urgent crisis support, call 911 to be seen about being admitted to the hospital if necessary or call a crisis line through King County or the national suicide prevention hotline (800.273.8255). These are available 24/7. For younger people, you can use TeenLink which is staffed by teens who are trained to talk with peers of the same age to work through stressors and help provide access to care.