How To Support A Loved One with Depression
We know it can be painful to watch someone you love is suffering with depression. You don’t have to let them suffer alone – we have some ways you can support a loved one with depression and help them through this difficult time.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting some 16 million adults per year. As with other serious illnesses, it doesn’t just affect those who have been diagnosed with it, either. Depression takes a toll on spouses, children, other family members, friends, and coworkers.
We understand that it can be difficult to support a loved one with depression. It can be hard to know what actions may help them, and what will do more harm than good. There are a few general guidelines, however. Read on to learn more.
7 Ways to Support a Loved One with Depression
Wondering what you can do to support a loved one with depression? Here’s how you can tell them that they’re not alone.
1. Recognize That Depression Is an Illness
Ask anyone who’s ever been diagnosed with depression, and they will likely tell you that one of the worst effects of all is not being taken seriously by others. Far too many people think that depression is nothing more than “having the blues,” or feeling sad — and that there’s no treatment necessary beyond “cheering up.”
It’s true that traumatic events such as the death of someone they love, the loss of a job, or even a lack of sunlight can trigger depression. However, there are physiological factors at play, too.
Telling a depressed person to just smile or shake it off, or that everyone feels sad sometimes, isn’t helpful. After all, if it were that easy to cure depression, no one would be depressed.
You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken ankle to “just get up and walk,” or advise a cancer patient to “think happy thoughts.” Think of depression in the same way you would a purely physical ailment.
2. Depression Might Not Look Like What You’d Expect
When you hear the word depression, what comes to mind? It’s probably a person with a glum facial expression, moping around and maybe eating ice cream straight from the carton. Depression can look like sadness, but it can also have a very different appearance.
Many depressed people seem to function normally. They get out of bed, go to work, smile and laugh, take care of their children, and do all of the same things that a non-depressed individual would do. This is called high-functioning depression.
Just as diseases like fibromyalgia, lupus, and infertility are invisible to the outsider looking in, so can depression masquerade as normalcy.
3. Look for Patterns
That said, once you have learned how to support a loved one with depression, it might be possible to look for the signs and patterns they demonstrate during a depressive episode.
They may cancel plans or stop responding to phone calls and texts — or they may initiate social plans and activities. They could work more hours than normal to distract themselves. They may drink more alcohol than usual, or they may not want to drink at all. Or perhaps there’s something just “off” about their behavior.
It can be extremely difficult for someone with depression to express that they’re having a particularly hard time — even to their closest family members and friends.
4. Know What To Say, and What Not To
If your loved one does confide in you, listen openly and compassionately. Remember to read between the lines, because they may not be able to say outright, “I’m depressed,” or “My depression is worse than usual lately.”
It’s worth repeating that telling the depressed person to “snap out of it” or “cheer up” is the wrong approach. This can send the message that you don’t care or don’t understand. Your friend may well distance herself from you if she hears sentiments like this.
Similarly, don’t launch into a litany of your own complaints and stressors. This is no time to one-up them or try to commiserate (particularly if you are not depressed).
Instead, ask them what you can do to help. Phrases like “I’m here for you if you want to talk” or “How can I support you?” or even just “I care about you and hate to see you struggle” are much more helpful.
5. Remind Them of What Helps
Depressed people can have incredible difficulty performing daily tasks, even those that will have a positive impact on their depression. Sometimes it’s a struggle to take a shower each day, let alone exercise, contact a new therapist for a consultation, or explain their feelings to a friend.
If you know that certain self-care techniques have worked for your loved one in the past, a gentle reminder may be in order. Say something like “I know going to the gym might feel overwhelming, but how about I take a walk around the block with you? Exercise has helped you before.” Or “If all you do today is wash your hair and put on clean clothes, that’s enough.”
Just be sure that your suggestions are rooted in experience, and are only suggestions — not ultimatums, nagging, or drill sergeant-like orders. No amount of wheedling, cajoling, or “tough love” will change a depressed person’s state of mind.
6. Turn to a Professional
Another rule of thumb when it comes to suggestions? Don’t insist on anything. Every person is different. Just because your stylist overcame her depression with naturopathy or your coworker has a therapist that saved his life, doesn’t mean that’s the right path for others.
You can certainly suggest such things and may want to encourage your loved one to seek professional help. You can even drive your friend to appointments. But don’t micromanage her depression treatment or imagine that you have all the answers.
And remember, even if your loved one is on medication for their depression it may not be the right prescription or the right dosage, so encourage them to speak to their professional if their depression continues or worsens.
7. If You Suspect Thoughts of Self-Harm
Thoughts of suicide are fairly common, whether it’s passive and active suicidal ideation. With the former, your loved one may have thoughts like “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, so be it” or “The world would be better off without me.” Active suicidal ideation means that the person has a plan in place to take their own life.
However, both should be addressed. Sometimes, the way to support a loved one with depression is to intervene so that they can get professional help. Keep the Suicide Prevention Lifeline programmed into your phone. If you are afraid that your friend has taken steps to kill herself, you can also call 911 or take her to the emergency room.
Wanting to support a loved one with depression is a noble desire. When in doubt (unless you are dealing with a life-threatening situation), ask your friend what she needs most – and let her know that you care for her and want to help, no matter what it takes. Lastly, make sure you take time for self-care as you must look after yourself in order to look after your loved one. Make sure you get enough time to rest and sleep. Don’t be afraid to ask others in your support network to help you shoulder some of the care.
If you have questions about our approach to treatment, contact us today.