6 Ways to Support a Friend with Depression or Suicidal Ideation

Depression is a common mental health condition with a range of symptoms that can make it hard to go through the motions of daily life — which ultimately impacts both the person struggling with depression and their loved ones. One of the trademark challenges of depression is disconnection, which may lead to isolation or pulling away from friends. People with depression may appear difficult to support: this is a symptom of the condition and is not because they don’t want or deserve help.

If you have a friend with depression, you might not know how to help them. You aren’t their therapist, but you can still support them as they access professional care. Here are six ways to help your friend with depression or suicidal ideation.

1. Be open to talking about their depression

People with depression may find it difficult to talk about what they’re experiencing. This could be because the emotions are hard to put into words or because they’re afraid of other people’s responses — this is especially true for suicidal ideation. To show your friend that you’re open to talking about their mental health, create a nonjudgmental space for an open-ended, empathetic conversation. This is a time for them to express how they’re feeling, as well as a time for you to share how much you care about them.

When your friend is ready to talk about their depression, it’s important to make sure that they feel safe confiding in you. You can do this by showing nonverbal engagement, such as nodding along as they speak. You might also consider using one of the following techniques during the conversation:

It may be helpful to prepare a few of these statements ahead of the conversation, just to be ready — these conversations are often quite difficult by nature of the topic. If you do find yourself without words, here’s an empathetic statement that communicates such: “Wow, I honestly don’t really know what to say. I’m just so glad that you told me and I’m here for you.”

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2. Keep a few conversation openers up your sleeve for when you’re worried

Generally, it’s important to let your friend with depression open or lead the conversation when it comes to their symptoms. This way, they feel in-control and secure. However, if you notice that your friend is particularly struggling lately, you may want to check in with them to see what’s going on.

There are a many ways to open the conversation in a nonjudgmental, supportive way. Be sure to start the conversation in a safe place: somewhere quiet, comfortable, and away from other people. Picking the right time and place will depend on what’s natural for the two of you, but making sure that your friend is comfortable will only benefit the conversation.

Next, use a gentle, open-ended check-in question. Here are a few prompts that you might consider:

After you open the conversation, continue to be supportive by listening without interrupting and letting your friend talk about themselves without shifting any focus towards yourself. If they disclose anything that you find surprising, be sure to keep your reactions outwardly neutral so they don’t feel judged.

Remember, it’s taking courage for them to share, and that’s a testament to your close relationship.

3. Help connect them with a professional

As you support your friend with depression, it’s vital to connect them with a mental health professional. By speaking with a therapist, they’ll learn how to manage their condition from someone with professional training and experience. Therapists will use evidence-based approaches to treat their depression and provide appropriate guidance.

When the time is right, float the idea of therapy and encourage your friend to seek professional help. Keep in mind that this isn’t you shirking any friendship duties, as helping them access mental health treatment will be beneficial for both your friend and your relationship. Your responsibility remains as a friend, not as their therapist.

To further support your friend in their search for a therapist, consider researching therapists online together. Zencare makes finding a vetted therapist simple. On each therapist’s profile, you’ll be able to read about their specialities and watch an introductory video. In addition to Zencare, you might also ask around for local therapist recommendations and providing that information to your friend. Trusted recommendations can go a long way, especially with someone who is wary of starting therapy.

Therapy looks different for everyone, so make sure that you stay focused on what your friend needs. This includes therapy style, approach, and therapist personality. Your friend might want to find a provider who will help them with skills-building through cognitive behavioral therapy, or they might be more interested in connecting with a psychodynamic therapist to examine the origins of their depression. By engaging your friend in a discussion about what they prefer, you’ll be able to help them find a great fit.

4. Offer to help them with the logistics of treatment

Once you’ve narrowed down some options for therapists and the timing is right, offer to help your friend prepare! Here are a few ways to do that:

Figure out payment

Are they going through insurance, paying out of pocket, or using out-of-network benefits? Either way, your friend has options. Read up on these different payment methods in order to help your friend figure out the best way to afford therapy:

Prepare for the initial phone call

The initial phone call is a great opportunity for your friend to assess fit with each therapist they're considering. Help them prepare for the call with the following:

Questions to ask each therapist:

Questions the therapist might ask them:

Shopping around for therapists is essential in attaining the right therapeutic alliance. Having a conversation with your friend about how the interaction went after each new clinician may help them explore their personal preferences.

Know where to go, and what to do

Your friend may benefit from a checklist of what to know and where to go, like:

5. Help them create a safety plan if they experience suicidal ideation

Some people with depression struggle with thoughts of harming themselves. Whether they’re in therapy or not, if you hear them expressing these thoughts, it’s absolutely crucial to ensure their safety.

A helpful tool in this situation is a safety plan. A safety plan is a crisis prevention plan that identifies the triggers for harmful behaviors and offers written instructions for ensuring safety.

There are a few standard steps towards writing a safety plan. This safety plan is best created before a time of crisis but is also effective during periods of suicidal or self-harm ideation. Here are tips for writing a safety plan:

Your friend can keep this document with them at all times, in case they feel a crisis coming up. They might also share it with their family, other friends, and their therapist. By having written instructions for what to do when they feel suicidal or self-harm ideation, they’ll know exactly what to do to stay safe.

6. Continue to be patient, encouraging, and compassionate — for both your friend and yourself

The best way to support your friend with depression is no doubt one that you’re already doing — being patient, encouraging, and compassionate with them, and yourself. By communicating that you care, you’re letting them know that you’re there for them.

Be sure to check in with yourself too. How does it feel to support your friend? Individuals with depression may be difficult to get to support in accessing treatment because of the impact that depression has on their motivation, so if you find yourself frustrated, remember to be patient and compassionate to yourself. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re doing a good thing by supporting your friend, but remember that each person is ultimately responsible for their own care, and you can't force someone to do something, like go to therapy, against their will.

Your mere presence and concern for your friend will help them as they go along their mental health journey. Your intentionality shows a huge strength of yours — caring for those around you and not being afraid to help them out when they feel down.