My Friend is Depressed. What Do I Do?

Talking to students after one of my talks

One of the most common questions I’m asked by teenagers is “what do I do if my friend is depressed?” So here’s a step by step guide on exactly what to do if your friend is feeling depressed.

Step #1

First things first, you need to ask them if they’re suicidal. Because if this person is suicidal, this changes the entire game. Your friend’s safety is our number one priority and immediate action needs to be taken to make sure that this person is safe. Once they’re safe, then we can deal with all the other aspects of healing.

​If they’re suicidal, you need to tell somebody or tell them to talk to their parents. In most cases, you’re not going to able to convince them to tell their parents, so the next best thing is to go your parents and say “My friend told me that they’re going to kill themselves. What do I do? I think I may need to call the police or can you talk to their parents?”

And while talking to your parents about this is the best thing you can do, another option is to talk to their parents if you know them at all. You can ask them if they know what’s going on and that their kid is threatening suicide. Their parents should take action and talk to them make sure they’re safe and if necessary admit them to a facility where they can be monitor and kept safe and evaluated and treated. I’ll never forget this teenage girl who came up to me after a talk and told me that she called 911 on her friend because she was suicidal. I was blown away. This is not something that everyone would or could do, but this amazingly strong high schooler did it. And yes, I know this may seem like the wrong decision right now, but down the road, you’re probably going to look back and be so glad you did this. Because your friend was made safe from themselves, and now they can receive healing.

Step #2

If they’re not suicidal, we can proceed to the next step and see how long is this been going on. Have you been feeling bad today? Has it been going on for a week? A year? Four years? Ten years? The length of their depression makes a big difference on how serious it is. If they’ve been feeling sad and depressed for a day then maybe what you need to do is to simply support them, say that you’re there for them, and that they can talk to you about what’s going on. Doctors will typically diagnose you with depression after you’ve been expressing the symptoms of depression consistently for over two weeks. That’s when they say there’s something serious going on here and take action to prevent it from becoming worse. So if it’s been over two weeks, and especially if it’s going on for a year or longer, then it’s something that should be taken seriously and something that definitely needs to be treated by a professional.

Another topic to ask them about is if it’s a situational or not. Are they being bullied at school? Do they have panic attacks at parties? There might be some place where you could be with them physically to help them when they encounter a certain situation.

The last thing to take into consideration to not keep this a secret for them. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been talking to someone, they’re telling me that their friend is depressed, but they stop talking to me because they promised their friend they wouldn’t say anything. I have a hard question for you if this is the case in your situation. Is this helping them? Does keeping this secret help them get better or does that help them get worse? That’s what we need to remember when it comes to this. What’s going to help them feel better or what’s going to help them feel worse? Try to do as much as you can of the good and limit the bad. Then learn from there. Keeping their suffering a secret from the people who can help them will only hurt them.

Step #3

Now you can support them while they get help. You’re not a therapist or a doctor. Your job isn’t to instantly make them feel better when they’re feeling sad. Being a friend of someone who’s depressed can be extremely frustrating because you constantly want to do more to help them. I get it. When I first started U Can’t B Erased, I wanted to heal everybody in the world. But I had to realize that I have limits, and I have to stick within my limits. Know the things you can do, then do those things as much as you can. You, as a friend, can be an awesome accountability partner for them.

One thing I want to make absolutely clear is that you’re not responsible for healing them. If you take that responsibility upon yourself, then you’re just going to be brought down and become depressed also because it won’t work. I know this may seem selfish right now but, in the long run, it is for the betterment of your friend. Watching yourself and keeping yourself mentally healthy is a way to actually help your friend. You can be a great example to them and support them better because you’re better.

Some of the most powerful things you can do for your friend is to simply be there for them during their hard times, to be there with them during their good times, to promise them that you’ll never abandon them, and to promise them that you will always love them as the awesome friend they are. Also, be a positive impact on their life, tell them they are indelible, tell they are amazing, tell they are beautiful people, and always tell them that they can’t be erased.