The Easy-to-Make Mistake When Supporting a Friend Who Might Be Depressed

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This week has been a rough one. Within days of each other, legendary designer Kate Spade and world-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, and the tragic chain of events is shining a bright light on how prevalent (and often undetected) mental-health issues are here in the United States and globally. In fact, one recent report notes that depression rates have spiked 33 percent in the U.S. in past five years. And since things won't magically change on their own, it's important that everyone knows how to support people who are struggling—or perhaps more crucially, be aware of what not to do.

When someone's feeling down, it's instinctual to try and lift their spirits, give positive advice, or remind them of all the good things they have in their life. But according to mental-health experts, that's actually one of the worst things you can do for someone who's suffering from depression. "Not only is that unlikely to boost their mood, it could backfire by reinforcing their sense that you just don’t get it," Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and the author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK, tells The New York Times. "Your job as a support person is not to cheer people up. It’s to acknowledge that it sucks right now, and their pain exists."

"Your job as a support person is not to cheer people up. It’s to acknowledge that it sucks right now, and their pain exists." —Megan Devine, psychotherapist

To support someone in need without unintentionally making matters worse, let them open up about what they're experiencing. Devine recommends starting the conversation on an empathetic note by saying something like, "It sounds like life is really overwhelming for you right now," and then focusing on being a good listener.

Furthermore, if your friend seems suicidal, don't hesitate to straight-up ask whether they're thinking about harming themselves, says Allen Doederlein, the executive vice president of external affairs at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. "It’s important to know you can’t trigger suicidal thinking just by asking about it," he says.

If you think there's even a slight chance a loved one is at risk of self-harm—which includes "joking" or casual mentions about it—reach out for help, whether that means calling a suicide-prevention hotline, contacting their family or therapist, or taking them to the hospital. Life is fragile, and you can never be too careful when someone you love might need your help.

This is how one psychiatrist says you should talk about suicide. Or, meet the app that lets you send out a mental health SOS without saying a word.

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