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Ask the Therapist: Help! My friend is seriously depressed

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I have a friend experiencing a sudden onset of low-functioning depression and I don’t know how to help her. There’s only so much you can “distract yourself” and “think positive thoughts”, but she is unable to identify what’s wrong either. She has a lot to keep herself busy with, but just cannot bring herself to do those tasks. How can I help her? – Name withheld

Thank you for caring so much about your friend that you are reaching out to me to help her with your question. When you write your friend is suffering from a low-functioning depression and has no energy, it sounds like she is no longer engaging in her normal daily activities, which could indicate that she is suffering from a depression that might require the services of a mental healthcare provider.

The idea to use distraction, positive thoughts and activities is helpful when someone is feeling sad or mildly depressed. It is true, if we can have many positive thoughts, the very neurochemical that is responsible for feeling happy increases in the brain. Additional techniques include basic self-care, such as exercise, good nutrition, and a good 7-8 hours of sleep. In addition, having a supportive friend like you to bond and talk with can help reduce feelings of depression.

However, when a depression is more serious (low functioning), and lasts more than two weeks, it is important to seek help of a mental healthcare provider.  That is because the very symptoms of a more serious depression will prevent a depressed person from engaging in healthy activities.  

If you do not see her condition improving, you can encourage your depressed friend to visit a psychologist or counsellor for an assessment. It is important to remind your friend that depression is a treatable condition.   

(Dr Annette is integrated psychotherapist at CHMC, Dubai. Got a query? Email us on [email protected])