The Right Way to Talk to a Friend About Their Depression

Depression affects 6 million men in the U.S. alone, but despite its prevalence, it can sometimes be hard to know the best ways to approach and provide support for those closest to you. Even with understanding family or friend groups, people with depression often isolate themselves and find difficulty connecting with others. Men in particular are more likely to report fatigue, irritability and loss of interest as symptoms of their depression.

As someone trying to support a person with depression, it’s easy to get discouraged or resort to benign neglect, thinking, “I’m not going to say anything because someone else will.” Even so-called societal “norms” dictate that men remain silent or keep their emotions under wraps. However, this unhealthy practice won’t contribute to healing for either party. I’ve found the most effective way to develop a support system is to open the channels of communication and pave the way for healthy conversation.

The first way to approach conversation is to remember to reach out to the individual—be there to support them, but also understand what is going on with them. When you give someone with depression “tough love,” and say, “What are you doing, get up!” when they’re having trouble completing tasks or are feeling overwhelmed, you can actually be forgetting that these are symptoms of the disorder beyond their control. A good tip is to make the conversation less about productivity and more about asking how you can help. This will allow you to better support your friends and loved ones with depression without acting like you have the solution.

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Another good start to a productive conversation is to ask someone with depression if they have seen their doctor recently, if they have changes in energy or if they’re taking care of themselves. With antidepressant medication, patients don’t start to feel better instantly—the effects are gradual. There are also varying degrees of side effects like weight gain and agitation. Because of this, my colleagues and I at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have seen many patients take their medication only for a week or two before stopping because it can be frustrating to not see or feel instantaneous results.

Remember, there’s no shame in taking medication to help with depression. A good framework for this conversation is to avoid leading with a negative statement like, “Are you taking your medicine? I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight.” Instead, you want to encourage your friends or loved ones to keep taking their medication. Remind them that the side effects are usually temporary, and that they will begin to feel better soon.

Though this conversation might make you worried about seeing “controlling” or being too “emotional” with your depressed friends or loved ones, by keeping the individual’s best interests at heart you can soften your advice without seeming pushy. Even saying something like, “I think you are depressed, would you be willing to talk to someone else and get a professional opinion on this? I’m not asking you to give up anything, I just want you to feel better,” suggests that your primary concern is not changing this person’s behavior, but supporting their well-being.

Like I mentioned earlier, forgetting gendered stereotypes can go a long way in forming more honest, mindful relationships. By openly addressing the circumstances of someone’s life through dialogue, it’s easier to respond to their needs and understand that their actions may be the result of an underlying issue. When you communicate with your friends or loved ones, you can begin a conversation that helps to connect the individual with much needed support.

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to offer your time to participate in someone’s daily life. You can attend doctor’s appointments, go out to sporting events, read or exercise together. Joining someone with depression in the activities they want to do will demonstrate your willingness to be part of their lives and long-term care. In fact, it’s the combination of medication, therapy and support that will have the greatest impact on behavior. So, even if a loved one or friend is exhibiting symptoms of depression, your willingness to have persistent, open communication will go a long way in giving them the support they need.

If you or a loved one need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is available 24 hours per day at: 1-800-273-8255.

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