In 2019, before the COVID pandemic hit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated roughly 18.5 percent of American adults experienced frequent depressive thoughts.
A recent survey showed that 23.5 percent of U.S. adult women and 21 percent of adult men self-reported having depressive thoughts.
That means most of us know someone – perhaps a friend, colleague, neighbor, or family member – who’s suffering from this brain health issue.
It’s useful then for us all to learn how to help someone with low mood.
Spotting Low Mood
Any of the following signs could indicate depression:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Anger outbursts, irritability, or frustration
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
- Too little or too much sleep
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Anxiousness, agitation, or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent mention of death or suicidal thoughts
- Unexplained physical problems, pain
It can be alarming to recognize the signs in someone you care about. Follow these tips from mental health professionals about how to help someone who’s feeling low before you take action.
10 Ways to Help A Friend with Depressive Thoughts
Communicate with your friend about their feelings. Be kind, honest, and understanding. Let them know you care about them.
Share your concerns and what you’ve observed and ask them about what they’re feeling and how you can be useful. Stay calm. Try to listen without reacting.
Earn their confidence by setting judgment aside. Don’t scold them or blame them and be careful not to dismiss their pain. Having low mood might not be their fault.
Don’t Try to Fix It
Resist the impulse to get into “fix it” mode with your friend or loved one. It isn’t your job to fix them and trying to often makes things worse.
Their depressive thoughts may be linked to psychological or physiological issues. It may require a medical evaluation by a qualified professional.
However, don’t underestimate your power to make a positive impact by providing loving support as your friend walks through a difficult challenge.
Don’t Take It Personally
People with low mood can be difficult to be around. They’re often angry, apathetic, and withdrawn.
Know that these are indications of their painful state of mind and body. Understanding this can keep you from feeling hurt, angry, or defensive.
Giving the gift of your presence and listening with empathy can help your friend more than you know. Find the part in you that identifies with how they’re feeling.
It isn’t easy. But this is what promotes real connection and makes someone feel heard.
You can even reflect back what you heard to your friend and ask if you understood them correctly. “Tell me more,” is a great way to encourage your friend to open up about their struggles.
Having low mood can be complicated. Brain health, stress, early losses and trauma, temperament, medical problems, and genetics can all factor into having consistent negative thoughts.
Educate yourself. There are numerous books available and many excellent online resources.
Be Positive and Hopeful
People with low mood usually have a hopeless outlook on life and feel helpless to do anything about it. They also have a lot of negative self-talk.
Always be positive in your interactions with your friend. Let them know you believe in their ability to get better. A great way to help a friend is to remind them of their positive qualities and how much they mean to you and others.
Encourage Seeing a Medical Professional
Low mood is treatable. If your friend hasn’t already consulted a medical professional, encourage them to do so.
An accurate diagnosis from a medical professional and a personalized treatment plan can put them on the path to recovery. Of course, if you think your friend is in immediate danger of harming him/herself or others, call 911 or take your friend to the nearest emergency department.
Often, people with low mood have difficulty with some of the basics of day-to-day living. They need support. Determine what you might be able to do and suggest a task you can take on for them.
For example, they may need help going to the grocery store, cleaning their home, or paying bills. Hygiene can be difficult for them to maintain as well. Encourage them to shower, to eat something healthy, or to get outside for some fresh air.
People with low mood tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. Stay connected. Find activities you can do with your friend and see them regularly.
Meet them for a walk, watch a movie or TV show, or cook/bake something with them. Suggest doing an activity or hobby that they previously enjoyed. But if it’s too much, respect their limits.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s important to step back and take care of yourself. Make sure you have healthy boundaries.
Practice good self-care with brain healthy habits such as exercising, eating right, meditating, getting good sleep, and challenging negative thoughts. Your healthy routine is one of the best things you can do to help your friend!
Be patient. It may take a while for him/her to feel bright and hopeful again. If you care enough to read this, you’re likely a very supportive friend!
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