One difficult part of friendship is watching your friend suffer and not being able to help them move through it. A friend with depression seems to be slowly drowning and you feel like you aren’t able to send them a lifesaver.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health, Black people are 20% more likely to suffer serious psychological distress than White people. Although our suicide rates are lower, it’s clear that our community is under severe mental health distress and there are many of us who find ourselves either suffering or supporting someone who is.

It can feel like a helpless position but there are a few things you can do and keep in mind to support your friend through this rough period.

1. Do Your Research

Depression is more than a bad day, week, or even a month. It’s not just feeling sad or down sometimes. Depression is like trying to breathe underwater with a weight on your back. In order to help a friend with depression, you need to educate yourself on what depression is and isn’t. Read the information that’s available.

Understand that mental illness is much more than just a bad day you can solve with a quick jog around the park, some inspirational music, and healthy eating. Those things can make for a better overall well being, but with most cases of depression you need to learn real coping mechanisms and how to dig your way out of the emotional pit. Read up on the illness before offering your help.

You can start by learning some symptoms of depression.

2. Understand Depression is an Illness
Imagine on your worst day someone came to you and said, “Just cheer up!” At the time you are thinking the sadness is so overwhelming that if you could “just cheer up” you would, but you can’t right now. That is similar to how a depressed person may feel. They may feel thoughts of suicide and overwhelming sadness that they cannot will themselves out of experiencing.

Although you may not have experienced depression, at no point should you devalue your friend’s experience as something less than an actual illness. If someone had cancer you wouldn’t tell them to just feel better as a solution. Treat depression the same way.

3. Listen and Be a Support, not a Savior

You cannot save your friend from depression. You are there to be a support, a listening ear, a resource and more, but not a savior. Listening is an important part of supporting. Don’t listen with the intent to “fix” the problem, listen so you can try to understand what may be leading to the issue.

4. Don’t Make Assumptions
You never know what is driving someone’s depression. Perhaps it is a tragic incident or their mind has slipped into an imbalance. Don’t make assumptions about why someone is depressed, if they “should” be depressed or not, or even if they are “really” depressed or not. Depression looks different on everyone and feels different for everyone. Don’t assume you know exactly how they feel or the reasons behind the feeling. This is why listening is also important.

5. Lend a Hand
“You should get help!” sounds like the right thing to say. But when you’re depressed, a lot of your energy and thoughts are consumed. You may not have the energy to get help or you may talk yourself out of needing help. When you want your friend to “get help” take the time to do your research and possibly recommend resources. If you can do some of the heavy lifting, like calling a therapist and making an appointment or even driving your friend there, it may help them on the road to recovery. Just be mindful that some friends may push back against this so it’s important to remember the next point.

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