When it’s more than the Blues:  How Can You Help?

Do you have a friend or colleague who you think is depressed? He’s hasn’t been looking quite right and no matter what you talk about his observations are negative.  You can tell he’s troubled.  You’re concerned and want to help.  Ideally you’d like to know if he would welcome that kind of attention-  or not.  How do you begin?

First, consider that people deal with depression in different ways. Your friend may know he’s depressed and yet try to disguise it.   On the other hand, he may be depressed, not know it and wonder why in the world you think he is.

To find out, you can start with a statement like: “You look like something hurts.”  You might like him to say “You know, I’ve been hoping you’d ask”.  But odds are his answer will probably be something ambiguous like: “Do I?”

This is the point at which your shared history becomes your biggest asset.  You’ll know by his tone of voice whether “Do I?” means he wants to talk about it or not. By nodding or saying: “Yes”, you give him the go-ahead to talk to you about it. 

When he does, you can be sure he’s glad you noticed and cared enough to bring it up.  Your goal now is to listen carefully and ask “who, what, when, where and how” type questions to zero in on the nature of the problem and what exactly it means to him.  Once both of you can fully describe the facts and understand his feelings, you are well into the helping process. 

Real life problems are complex.  The planning and working toward a solution involves more than one conversation and can require a series of steps, each of which takes time.  Your friend might need to get information from several more people in order to plan and reach a solution to the problem.

Showing concern and asking thorough “who, what, when, where and how” questions that get to the nature and meaning of the problem might be all your friend needs to relieve the pressure he’s been living under and find a way to his old self.  In any case, it’s the best and perhaps the only role you can play.

Even if your friend made a joke or changed the subject when you gave him an opening to talk, he knows he has a friend who will listen when he’s ready.

This article is based on ideas discussed in the How Can I Help? book.  It is not an excerpt from the book