How to Help a Friend with Depression An excerpt from Beneath the Surface by Kristi Hugstad

Ever since author Kristi Hugstad’s husband, after years of struggling with clinical depression, completed suicide in 2012 by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide.

That mission is what inspired her to write Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis, which speaks candidly to today’s youth — and the parents, teachers, and coaches who love them — about the anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts that far too often accompany the unique challenges that face their generation. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

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Depression refers to feelings of intense sadness that don’t go away after a few hours or even a few days. It’s not feeling sad when things go wrong, which is expected; it’s feeling sad all the time, when everything is going right, too.

Depression affects a person’s thoughts in such a way that they don’t see when or how a problem can be overcome. It leads people to focus mostly on failures and disappointments and to emphasize only the negative side of their situation. Someone with severe depression is unable to see the possibility of a good outcome and may believe he or she will never be happy or that things will never be right for them again.

Looking on the “bright side” is often impossible for someone suffering from depression. Depression is like wearing sunglasses in an already dark room: It completely distorts your thinking. That’s why depressed people often can’t recognize that their perspective is limited or obscured and that emotional problems are temporary and changeable, so they turn to the permanent solution of suicide. Someone with depression may feel like there’s no other way out, no other escape from emotional pain, and no other way to communicate desperate unhappiness. They lose hope that their mood will ever improve. They lose the ability, after feeling down for a long time, to step back and view their situation objectively.

Sometimes people who feel suicidal may not even realize they are depressed. When depression causes someone to see all situations in a negative way, suicidal thinking is a real concern.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a standard form of depression. No two brains are exactly alike, and since depression is a disease of the brain, there will never be two identical cases. Additionally, the distinct details of someone’s life and situation affect the ways in which the disease manifests itself, though the feelings of hopelessness are often similar.

Ask the Question

If you think someone is depressed, you can begin a conversation with that person by simply asking, “Are you okay?” Because getting beneath the surface, first and foremost, requires asking.

Believe it or not, teens who are depressed or considering suicide are usually willing to talk if someone asks them, out of genuine concern and care, if they are okay. When you take a brave step to start a conversation with these three words, you open the door to encourage someone to get the help they need.

When someone is depressed, they are not able to see the answers or solutions to problems clearly. That’s when speaking with a trusted friend or relative can help the person recognize or identify healthy ways out of a bad situation. Sometimes finding that light in the tunnel starts with a simple conversation.

If a friend or family member opens up to you, know that takes courage and trust. But that trust does not — and should not — swear you to silence. If the topic of suicide arises, whatever you do, whatever you think, whatever you say, this is one time to not keep secrets.

In fact, if a friend or classmate swears you to secrecy, get them help immediately; tell an adult you trust as soon as possible!

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Kristi Hugstad is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out when You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. Ever since her husband completed suicide in 2012, after years of struggling with clinical depression, by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide. A certified grief recovery specialist, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. Visit her online at

Excerpted from the book Beneath the Surface. Copyright ©2019 by Kristi Hugstad. Printed with permission from New World Library —


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