How to help a friend in need


When we begin to notice that one of our loved ones is suffering depression, we usually have a feeling of helplessness. We hope that there’s something we could say to make all their pain go away. Although our intentions have only our loved one’s well being at heart, this approach tends to complicate things even further. The truth is that the best help is not saying the right thing, it’s undivided and active listening.

As stated in the description of depression, the key to our emotional well-being is to keep our emotional cycle running. We can keep our emotional flow intact by being able to be aware of our feelings and to express them regularly and effectively. A friend with depression is not someone who needs to be “fixed” with the correct words of encouragement or wisdom. A friend with depression needs someone who can help them share their deepest feelings in a safe environment. Basically, what a friend with depression needs is someone to listen to them.

Or more importantly, how can we help our friends feel safe so they can express their emotions?

The most important thing is being able to listen without being judgmental. This sounds easier than it is because we’re always very close to our friends. Our friends need to be able to say anything without having any consequences in their lives. This is an edge counselors have, because their position as professionals allows them to be more objective.

Once you feel able to provide this secure area for expression, there are a few things you’ll need to be prepared for:

You must feel confident to try to be nonjudgmental, if your friend says something that might hurt you, you’ll have to be able to react in a way that will not threaten their ability to express their feelings (avoid angry reactions).

You have to realize that this process takes time. As stated before, it’s not a matter of fixing someone; it’s a matter of allowing our friends to return to their emotional cycle by expressing their suppressed emotions. Letting all the emotions out is part of the cycle. Initially it will look like your friend is visibly sadder. However, being able to express their feelings of sadness is the only way to complete their emotional cycle and through time they should start enjoying life again. Should the depression persist after providing a safe and comfortable space and multiple conversations, it’s most likely that your friend still has some suppressed feelings. In this, it is advisable to seek a higher level of support in order to complete the emotional cycle.

Remember, you cannot force or fix your loved ones, you can only listen and when appropriate, challenge maladaptive behaviors or conditioning beliefs. However, the challenge needs to be done with care, skill, and only if you know that your friendship can handle uncomfortable truths. If you don’t feel confident to do so, you can also point out that it might be a good idea to see a professional to deal with these issues. If you choose to do so always do it in a non judgmental way to keep encouraging your friend to open up and process their feelings.

– by Gui Mansilla

Gui is a Coach, Psychotherapist and Director of Breakthrough Center in Toronto.
Breakthrough Center delivers Psychotherapy and Coaching services to Individuals, Families and Groups. We support clients in creating strong personal foundations to experience a lifetime of positive change and growth.

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 Edited by Edgar Valderrama Medina 

Edgar is the content manager for Breakthrough Center and Breakthrough Broadcast 

This entry was posted in Mental Health, Psychotherapy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to help a friend in need

  1. imconfident says:

    As someone who has suffered with depression all my life, I understand what you are saying. I’ve been judged and criticized but what I needed was someone to listen with empathy. Doing research has helped me understand how to manage my depression and has allowed me to help others by listening and sharing their feelings. I didn’t totally agree with the comment that people can’t be fixed with words of encouragement or wisdom. I know it doesn’t work to tell people what they should do, they have to work things out themselves. However, encouragement really helped me – it didn’t fix me, but it gave me hope to keep going and that I was doing better. Words of wisdom didn’t fix me either, but they made me think. I always encourage people to keep going and never give up, to always have hope.

    • Thanks imconfident for your valuable comment. I totally see your point and I AGREE that encouragement is always good when dealing with depression. However our point was more towards not treating somebody that suffers depression as a broken person. That is why they don’t need to be fixed (but encouraged and respected). We could edit the post to clarify it thanks to your comment. Many thanks for taking the time!

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