How Can I Help Someone Who Seems Depressed?
By Lauren Krouse
When you’re close to someone, you’re often one of the first people to notice when they’re not feeling well. You know what’s normal for them and when it feels like something’s wrong—even when they can’t tell you.
Depression can look like a friend or family member who responds to texts less often, gets angry over stuff that usually wouldn’t bother them, pushes you away, or keeps talking down about themselves. These, among other changes, could be signs of depression.
If you’re worried, don’t be afraid to check in. Talking about feelings can be awkward, uncomfortable, or easy to avoid altogether, especially if it’s not normally what you talk about. It takes guts. But when you gently reach out, you’re ultimately showing that you care. You’re creating space for them to feel seen, heard, and supported. That’s always a good thing—whether or not they’re ready to talk.
Here are specific ways you can support someone who may be depressed.
1. Start the Conversation
When someone is feeling down, the last thing they need is to feel guilt or blame. Those are often the feelings that come up when someone notices they’re struggling, however, so it’s important to express your concerns in a loving and nonjudgmental way.
Try something like: “I’ve noticed you seem sort of down lately. What’s up?” You could also start small with a light check-in, such as: “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How have you been?” If they shrug off the question or try to avoid the topic, let them know you’re genuinely interested in how they’re really feeling. If they put themselves down, remind them their thoughts and feelings aren’t their fault. If they say they don’t want your help, know that there are other ways you can help them.
2. Be an Active Listener
When they feel comfortable sharing their feelings or opening up about what’s going on, be as present as you can and listen with an open heart and mind. That may mean setting aside your own worries, immediate reactions, judgments, to-do lists, or anything else demanding your attention.
Even if they’re ready to talk, it’s possible they don’t have all their thoughts and feelings sorted out. Listening patiently, repeating back to them what you think they are trying to say, and asking questions to make sure you understand can help them get some clarity too.
3. Avoid Trying to Fix Things
As much as you may want to leave your loved one feeling “up” when the conversation ends, trying to fix someone’s problems or cheer them up can feel like unwanted pressure to someone who is feeling sad or contemplative. Stick to simply listening or asking open, honest questions. That’s generally much more helpful than giving out wisdom or offering advice.
4. Ask How You Can Help
Let them tell you what they need. If they don’t have a concrete answer or don’t know exactly what they need help with, offer a couple small, doable things you’d be willing to help them with. Here are some ideas:
- Being an active, available listener the next time they’re feeling sad.
- Planning a movie, game night, or other fun activity.
- Helping them with a small task, such as laundry, dishes, or studying.
- Offering to help them find a health-care provider, such as a primary-care physician or therapist for a screening if they haven’t had one yet.
- Offering to accompany them to their first therapy appointment or get coffee or lunch before or after their appointment.
- Giving gentle nudges to help support their goals and healthy lifestyle changes, such as a reminder text or shared resolution like taking walks or starting a workout class together.
If they’re not in a space to ask for anything from you, that’s OK. Just keep listening and showing up when you can.
5. If You Think They May Be Having Thoughts of Suicide, Ask Them
Don’t ignore it if you suspect something is going on or things are getting worse. Notice changes in how they look, what they say, or how they act. If they show signs that they could be considering suicide—such as talking about feeling hopeless or wishing they weren’t here—don’t be afraid to ask them if they’re thinking about suicide.
You may worry that bringing up suicide could put the idea in their head, but the opposite is true. If they are thinking about suicide, it can be a relief to know someone sees what they are going through and they can feel more comfortable sharing any scary thoughts they are having.
If you or someone you know needs help right now:
- Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.
6. Remember to Take Care of Yourself
Supporting someone with depression takes a lot of strength. Sometimes hearing what someone else is going through can bring you down—especially if you’re also struggling. It isn’t your fault or theirs; it’s just something that can happen.
Pay attention if you start to struggle, and set boundaries if you need to. When you sense that you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself for a break and some self-care.
If you’re not sure what to do next or you get the sense you could use more help, remember that you do not have to carry this on your own—and it’s smart to know your limits and ask for support. Reach out to an adult you trust, such as a family member, school counselor, or teacher, for help.
Your mental health and well-being matter, too, and you can be an even better support for someone else when you take care of yourself first.
Check out these articles to learn more about depression and get the help you—or someone you care about—needs: