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This is the best way to handle a friend who's feeling depressed (hint: don't try to be Dr Phil)

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If someone close to you is feeling depressed, what is the best thing you can do? Are you able to help them? Or should you just leave them be? 

Comedian and expert Bill Bernat has a clear answer to the latter of these questions: no! For people who are depressed, social interaction with friends and family can be a complicated thing – but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it. On the contrary: people who suffer from depression really need to be in touch with other people. 

This is how you treat a person who is feeling depressed 

If your friend, sister or colleague is feeling depressed, you probably want to say or do something to help them, you just don’t know how. Bill Bernat is bipolar and knows from his own experience that many people don't know how to handle that. In his TEDtalk, he lists a couple of useful tips and tricks. 

You don’t have to be Dr Phil 

Of course you want to help them, but you don’t have to. If you do your best to offer a solution to your friend or family member’s problem, you might (unwantingly!) be pressuring them: they feel like it’s time they start feeling better now. By the way, it isn’t so much about what you say, according to Bernat. It’s about simply being there for them. 

Don’t worry, it’s not contagious

It might sound silly, but some people are afraid depression is contagious. They think they will get depressed if they hang around with a depressed person. It doesn’t work that way. Besides, apart from really heavy depression, we shouldn’t panic when someone is feeling sad or morose sometimes – it’s part of life. 

Don’t take ‘no’ personally

Even if you’re not trying to be Dr Phil, you probably give them some advice sometimes. Because you remember what was helpful to you when you were feeling bad. If your friend rejects your advice, don’t take it personally. We’re all different: the things that make you feel better, don’t necessarily help others, and vice versa. 

Jokes are OK

Bernat stresses the importance of being yourself. Just because your friend is feeling horrible, doesn’t mean you have to speak in a grave, worrisome voice and talk about serious stuff all the time. Being cheerful is fine. 

Go out together 

Spending time with a depressed person doesn’t have to mean sitting on the couch talking about Life. If it’s possible (which isn’t always the case, because depression can be paralyzing), go out and do things together. Let them be a part of your life, take up a chore together, go see a movie. 

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Christopher Campbell