One of the most upsetting aspects of the college experience is dealing with a friend who is depressed or coping with your own depression. Even more distressing is dealing with others or with yourself when thoughts of self-harm are involved. Because depression is fairly common among 18 to 24 year olds, there is a good chance that it is a problem that you will encounter. You should know that with time and with appropriate assistance, depression does lift.The most important thing that you can do is to get yourself or your friend the level of help that is needed to get better.
In this section, we offer specific suggestions about how to help a friend or yourself to cope with depression. We have also included the warning signs for depression and for suicide to help you recognize when someone really needs professional assistance.
How to help a friend who is depressed:
- Be a good listener - do not minimize or deny the pain your friend is expressing, let him/her talk freely.
- Be non-judgmental - do not suggest that your friend is weak for feeling this way.
- Do not offer easy solutions - telling your friend to just get over it, or that he/she needs to stop thinking about it, does not help.If they could just get over it, they would.
- Suggest other sources of help to your friend - an RA, a counselor, a supportive family member.
- Understand the difference between professional and non-professional help - when someone is blue or having a bad day, talking to a friend is probably all he/she needs. But when someone is truly depressed and has been for a while (two weeks or more) he/she probably needs to speak to a professional person who has been trained to help people who are clinically depressed.
- Remain supportive and present to the extent that you are able to do so. When depressed people feel alone and abandoned, they tend to feel worse.
- Know your limits - if you feel overwhelmed or that the things that your friend is telling you are very serious, acknowledge that to your friend. Work with him/her to get the professional help he/she needs, which is often the best way to take care of your friend.
- Know the warning signs for possible suicide.
If you believe your friend is suicidal or might otherwise hurt himself/herself (e.g. cutting himself/herself, driving while intoxicated, taking pills, running out into traffic) do the following:
- Tell him or her directly that you are worried.
- If your friend tells you he/she has tried to or plans to harm himself/herself, get professional help immediately - an RA, the Counseling Center, the hospital emergency room. Do not allow yourself to agree to keep your friend's suicidal intentions a secret. This is one secret you must not keep. You must inform an appropriate person (parent, counselor, RA, RD) and get help.
Stay with your friend until help comes.
- If you have been through a crisis with a friend, here are some ways to take care of yourself:
Get support - this is often a frightening experience by which you may have been emotionally impacted. It might be beneficial to speak with a counselor on a short-term basis about it. The counselor will help you to process how it has affected you and will maintain the confidentiality of the situation.
Talk to your friend - sometimes, the crisis situation can cause a strain in the relationship between you and your friend. Consider talking one-on-one with your friend about the situation and how it has affected you and your friendship.
Resume your own life - when a friend has gone through a crisis, because you are concerned you may feel an ongoing responsibility to ensure that he/she is all right. At the same time, you cannot let your whole life be taken over by a friend's problems. Once your friend has gotten professional help, allow yourself to back off and resume your own activities.
- Remember that ultimately we are all responsible for ourselves. Because we reach out to a friend we believe is hurting, that doesn't mean he/she will always respond as we would like. Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own decisions and actions. All you can do is offer assistance.
What to do if you are depressed:
- Know the difference between the "blues" and depression in terms of symptoms, severity and duration.
- Be honest about your feelings - do not minimize or deny them.
- Do not let others deny or minimize your feelings. Only you know how sad you are feeling.
- Recognize when talking to a friend is not enough. If your sad mood persists and/or if you are getting out of your usual routine, it might be time to get professional help.
- Understand that getting professional help does make a difference - there are many professional approaches to treating depression. One of them will certainly work for you.
- Get professional help through the Counseling Center or through another professional agency. The Counseling Center will make a referral if you wish to be seen elsewhere.
- If you are having suicidal thoughts, let a responsible person (RA, RD, parent, counselor, professor) know immediately. Understand that these suicidal thoughts and feelings will diminish over time. Learn good health habits and good coping strategies.
Common Symptons of Depression
- Sad Mood
- Feelings of Hopelessness
- Irritability and Restlessness
- Little interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep or significantly over sleeping
- Loss of appetite, weight loss or significantly increased appetite and weight gain
- Low energy, constant fatigue
- Poor concentration
- Thoughts of Death and Suicide
- Feeling of Worthlessness, Low self-esteem
Risk Factors For Suicide:
- Direct Expression of Suicidal Intent
- "Hints" about suicidal intent
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Someone significant has committed suicide
- Putting affairs in order
- Giving Thinks Away
- Preoccupation with Death
- Rejection of Help
- No future orientation
- Alcohol/Drug Abuse
Counseling Center - (914) 633-2038
Office of Residential Life - (914) 633-2336
St. Vincent's Hospital: Evaluation and Referral (24 hrs) - (914) 925-5542
Sound Shore Medical Center - (914) 632-5000
Any hospital emergency room will evaluate an individual who is extremely depressed and/or suicidal
Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK
Westchester County Suicide/Crisis Hotline (914) 347-6400
National Suicide/Crisis Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Websites:
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
Go Ask Alice
JED Foundation for Suicide Prevention
National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Suicide Prevention Resource Center