UCL News


Is my friend depressed? How you can help those who might be suffering with depression

20 January 2016

We all have good days and bad days, but what if you notice that a friend is having a lot of bad days? Depression is not: sadness following some bad news from home or university or a difficult break-up a few 'grumpy' days for no reason the same as feeling low after a bad essay mark or a team loss the same as a hangover or pre-menstrual tension.

Is your friend depressed?

Depression is:

  • a pervasive or persistent low mood
  • able to strike after a bad event OR can come out of the blue
  • something to be taken seriously as it can ultimately be fatal.

What should I look out for?

Depression can be seen from the outside by noticing if your friend's behaviour has changed. They may start doing things they did not do previously, such as:

  • crying
  • not going to lectures, or not going out at all
  • not socialising
  • not sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • complaining of feeling tired all the time
  • not eating, or overeating
  • talking about wanting to harm themselves or ending it all.

What should I not do?

Don't tell them to 'snap out of it' - if they could, they would have already done so.

Don't tell them you know how they feel - depressed people don't even know how they are really feeling.

Don't tell them they have nothing to feel low about - depressed people can feel very intensely that they have a great deal to worry about and nothing to look forward to.

Okay. What should I do then?

Tell your friend (gently) that you have noticed they seem to be different and ask them if they have noticed that too.

Keep in contact with them on a regular basis - it may not be rewarding and they may not thank you, but getting a call or a text can make a big difference to a depressed person' s day.

Ask them to tell you how they are feeling - and listen. Try not to judge or leap in with suggestions.

Get them to see their GP. Depression needs to be diagnosed properly and GPs will take them seriously.

Getting them out and about will help - can you offer to go for a walk with them? Try and take them to events that they used to enjoy. Encourage them, but also accept that they might not be fun to be around for a while.

Get them to contact UCL Student Psychological Services. We have a team of therapists and psychiatrists who can help. 

Get their other friends involved.

If you are concerned about their safety, tell them you are. Get them to A&E in an emergency or call 999.

And be kind to yourself while you are doing this valuable work - don't do it all on your own.

Laura Oakes
UCL Student Psychological Services