How to Help Someone with Depression
If someone close to you is suffering from depression, it can be difficult, confusing, and saddening not just for them but for you as well. Depression never just impacts one person – it takes over the lives of friends, family, co-workers, teachers, peers…. although many people try to hide depression, what they really need is support, friendship and help. If you know somebody, particularly somebody close to you, suffering from depression, or if you suspect they may be, then sitting by doing nothing and watching them go through it will break your friendship and do nothing to help either of you. However, helping someone suffering from this disease can be difficult, heavy and stressful. These 11 points can help you help a loved one during a difficult time.
- Help the person to recognize that there is a problem. If a friend or family member’s activity and outlook on life starts to decline and stays down, not for a few days, but for weeks, depression could be the cause. Many people don’t even realize that they are depressed. Encourage your friend to share his or her feelings with you, since talking about depression makes things better, not worse. Once it starts to become clear that something is wrong, you can suggest that he or she seek professional help.
- Explain that asking for help does not mean they lack moral character. On the contrary, it takes both courage and wisdom to know when someone needs help. Help them to understand that they have taken a big step, and encourage them.
- Learn everything you can about clinical depression. Find out about symptoms of depression and how to tell when your loved one is improving. Educate yourself on the issues that you should be careful about, and learn how to support your friend in the best way. Knowledge is power and understanding.
- Provide emotional support. What a person suffering from depression needs most is compassion and understanding. Telling someone to “snap out of it” or “lighten up” are awful things to say. The best things to say are, “How can I help you?” or “I will always be here for you. I won’t leave you to face this on your own.” Usually, depressed people lie about their depression, so if someone says, “Are you okay?” they will say “Yes,” but you have to make sure they can tell you how they really feel.
- Provide physical support. Participate with your friend or loved one in low-stress activities such as taking a walk, watching a movie, or going out to eat somewhere nice (often they won’t want to eat at all, but they might eat good food). In some cases you can ease the depressed person’s burden by helping with the small things— running errands, shopping for food and necessities, cooking, cleaning, etc.
- Monitor possible suicidal gestures or threats. Statements such as “I wish I were dead,” or “I don’t want to be here anymore,” must be taken seriously. Depressed people who talk about suicide are not doing it for the attention. If the person you care about is suicidal, make sure that a doctor or trained professional is informed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, hold on to the possibility that your loved one will get better, even if he or she does not believe it.
- Don’t try to talk the depressed person out of his or her feelings. The depressed person’s feelings may be irrational, but telling them they are wrong or arguing with them is not the way to go. Instead, you might try saying, “I’m sorry that you’re feeling bad. What can I do to help?
- Step back every so often. You may become frustrated when your well-meaning advice and reassurance are met with sullenness and resistance. Please don’t take your loved one’s pessimism personally— it’s a symptom of the illness. Direct your frustration at the illness, not the person.
- Communicate with other people in the person’s support network. Contact family, friends, clergy, etc. By talking to other caregivers, you will pick up additional information and perspective about your loved one. You could even arrange for all of the caregivers to meet together for a brainstorming/support session. Then you will be working as part of a team—and be encouraged that you are not alone. Be careful when you tell other people about the person’s depression. People can be judgmental if they do not understand the issue fully, so choose carefully as to whom you tell.
- Take good care of yourself. It is easy to get wrapped up in your friend’s problems and lose sight of yourself. You may also experience “contagious depression,” or you may get your own issues triggered. Recognize that your feelings of frustration, helplessness, and anger are perfectly normal.
- Stay in contact. Call them on the phone, write an encouraging card or letter, or visit them in their home. They will know that you care if you do things like this. It tells the person that you are willing to stick by them no matter what.