5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Low motivation can be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression, which may require professional help.
If a friend is struggling with their mental health, they may not have much time, interest, or energy for other things in life – including their relationships. Try to be a positive presence and let them know you’re there for support.
Continue to support your unmotivated friend by checking in on them regularly.
We all have those days where we really can’t be f*cked doing much. But there’s a difference between indulging in the occasional day spent binging Netflix and constantly feeling unmotivated in life. If you notice a friend who’s lacking energy or the desire to do much, it could be a sign of a bigger issue such as depression.
Trying to help someone who doesn’t seem to want to help themselves can be super frustrating, but unmotivated friends need plenty of support around them. Here’s how you can help.
Significant life events such as losing a job, going through a separation, or facing a crisis (like a global pandemic) can leave a lot of people feeling helpless and unmotivated. A perceived loss of control during these situations can have someone thinking, ‘Why should I try when I can’t change anything?’
During times like this, our friends need us to look out for them more than ever. Part of this is helping them recognise when they need professional help. Keep an eye out for common signs of depression, which can include:
While it’s wonderful to want to help your friend yourself, if they’re dealing with a mental health issue like depression, they may require additional support from a doctor or therapist.
But there are still ways that the power of your friendship can positively impact an unmotivated pal.
Sometimes people with mental health issues are so overwhelmed by dealing with their anxiety or depression that they don’t have much energy left over. You know, for juggling everything else – parenting, working, and taking care of their physical health. Let alone putting effort into your friendship.
Try not to hold this ‘lack of effort’ against them too much. Instead, accept that this could be a side effect of whatever they’re going through right now. Show your friend that you accept them as they are by not putting too much pressure on them and letting them know that it’s okay if they’re not up for a catch up.
Accepting a friend’s lack of motivation doesn’t mean leaving them off your invites. (That’d be brutal.) Encourage your friend to get out and about by keeping them in the loop about events and suggesting other activities you could do together. Even if sometimes they’re not up for catching up, it’s still important for them to give them the option.
Making decisions can be overwhelming if someone is experiencing depression, so it could be useful for you to take the thinking off their plate. Name the time and place and encourage them to do something fun with you.
Whether it’s a weekly surf, a standing Tuesday night online gaming session, or volunteering at an animal shelter, try to get your friend to commit to doing something with you. This can give them something to look forward to (hanging out with your awesome self), as well as a new hobby to engage with.
Mulling over things they can’t change may add to your friend’s feelings of helplessness. Instead, remind them of the things they have to look forward to. Helping your friend take a future focused approach can be incredibly helpful.
It’s good to inspire creative thinking too. This can help them get out of a ‘helpless/hopeless’ mentality and instead focus on what they can control. For example, you could suggest chatting to their boss about flexible working options so they can spend more time with the kids.
If your attempts to support an unmotivated friend lead to them pulling away and isolating themselves, it may be that they need a little time to themselves. If this happens, don’t give up. It might be time to rethink your approach.
Remember, you’re a sounding board, not a therapist. You don’t need to solve your friend’s problems or offer advice on how to get their act together. Hanging out with you should be a safe space to chat openly about what’s going on in life. Come at it from this angle and there’ll be less pressure to change their unmotivated current state. Plus, this attitude will help you avoid coming across as ‘judgy’ or ‘pushy’ – even if that’s not how your support is intended. Remember: don’t force your friend to change.
As a general rule, people don’t often love discussing uncomfortable things. (You may have noticed.) Mental health definitely falls under that category. Here are a few of the common barriers men may face when talking with a friend – mostly because they feel awkward.
“How are your kids doing?”
“Yeah, not bad.”
“Oh great. And how about your depression?”
Not really a chat you’d have with a friend? We often avoid speaking openly about mental health struggles. Sure, it can make people feel embarrassed or awkward. But we’re allowed to address the elephant in the room. Particularly if you think your friend could be experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to get to the point and talk about the hard stuff.
Guys need to talk more. There, we said it. Opening up and getting real is healthy and beneficial for everyone involved. It can help your friendship grow stronger and allow you both to be more genuine with each other.
If your friend struggles to get real, asking open questions could be a good way to prompt them. For example “I’ve noticed you haven’t been your usual self lately, what’s been going on for you?”
Some men may think that showing emotion or sharing their struggles is a sign of ‘weakness’. We call BS! Level the playing field by admitting your own day to day struggles. This will show your friend that it’s normal and healthy to open up. Display vulnerability and they’ll often follow your lead. Remember: if being vulnerable is scary, then doing so is a big old act of courage!
If you think your friend needs professional help with managing their low motivation or depression, you might feel awkward bringing it up. But it could be something they haven't even considered. Ask if they’ve been talking to anyone lately and offer to help them find a great therapist if you feel comfortable doing so. Perhaps you know of someone — if not, help them search online for a therapist that suits them or have them reach out to their local doctor. A doctor should be able to point your friend in the right direction.
Managing depression or low motivation is an ongoing process. For that reason, your friend will benefit from regular check-ins. Here’s how you should go about it:
They may prefer meeting up for a specific activity, or a quick 5-minute lunchtime phone call.
Don’t ‘leave them hanging’. Make definite plans and follow through.
Consider doing something you both enjoy, or just packing heaps of encouragement and laughter into your talk. That way you’ll both come away having had a good time and will want to do it again.
It can be tough dealing with an unmotivated friend – particularly if they don’t seem to want help or to participate in life. But whether they're just going through a hard time right now, or dealing with an ongoing mental health issue, your support will do worlds of good.