Disclaimer: This article is a guide to handling people with depression. But mental illness is a dice roll, not an equation, so this isn't a comprehensive guide to handling everyone's depression. Chronic sadness looks different for every one of the people it effects. If this guide doesn't help you, just try treating your friend with depression like you would treat anyone else--with patience and understanding.
Understand that your friend is as frustrated with their depression as you are.
Depression makes people feel heavy for no reason. Some mornings are okay, I wake up and take my medication and drink my coffee and feel what I think I'm supposed to.
Other days it feels like my heart is made of every inconvenience: every paper cut and burned out hallway lightbulb. Try to be gentle, because even basic tasks seem hard and frustrating. Getting out of bed feels like throwing myself to the sharks when I'm already bleeding.
Be considerate with how you phrase things.
Try not to say "that gives me anxiety" or "that makes me depressed." It's a small thing, but chronic mental illnesses are very real for people. It's a little frustrating when someone minimizes it into a feeling instead of something that constantly perpetuates your mind, body, and soul.
Learn how to talk without words and "listen" to their body language.
Just saying "I get sad too" and "it's going to be okay" is helpful, but not always what we want to hear. We've heard that before. I'm sure it's going to be okay, but right now what I need is something else.
It's helpful to understand when we can keep up a conversation and when we just want silence and a hug, or to be left alone, or just to sit together and just be together. Depression does a lot to try to isolate its victims, and sometimes that is what they need. But it says a lot being present, even if you aren't doing anything extensive.
Just because I'm not obviously and openly sad, it doesn't mean my depression is invalid.
It isn't every day that I want to pull every thread from my body and unravel myself until I turn into nothing. Sometimes I feel the sunshine on my shoulders, see the first few blooms of spring, feel the promise of summer in the atmosphere and remember why I still wake up every morning. I have the ability to feel happy, to feel content.
But even when the day is filled with good friends and decent coffee and warm weather, there's always an inner struggle. There's always something telling me I'm not good enough, I will never amount to anything, and I might as well stop trying. My mind will always be trying to sabotage me, but sometimes I can ignore it long enough to feel some semblance of contentedness.
The most important thing to know: There is no easy solution.
There is no magical serotonin pill, no amount of therapy or yoga that will make the weight in your stomach disappear. Some people don't need meds, some people really, really do. Therapy doesn't work for everyone. The question "are you okay?" is a tough thing to answer. Yes, no, not right now.
Understand that your friend might not even be sure what they need to feel better, so try not to prescribe them exercise or more water. We know it's important, but when your chest feels like it's constantly filled with ice water, it's difficult to think about working out and drinking detox tea.
These are just 5 surface level examples of how you can communicate with your friends that have depression. It doesn't always have to be a big, dramatic action. If you are unsure, your friend is most likely going to be more than happy to explain how they prefer to be treated when their depression is especially difficult.