If you have a loved one who suffers from depression, you might feel like you’re not sure how to help them. If you’ve never experienced a mental illness yourself, it can be hard to know the right way to approach a person with depression. However, there are so many things you can do to support them during this difficult time – even things as simple as texting them to say hello or driving them to appointments can feel like a lifesaver to someone with depression. Here are 10 techniques that are recommended for helping someone who is struggling with depression.
1. Get educated
Your first step should be to learn as much as you can about depression. Knowledge truly is power, and the more you learn about the condition, the better prepared you’ll be to help your loved one. There are countless websites where you can learn more (even just a quick Google search comes back with lots of reliable info), or you can check out forums like TheMighty.com where people with depression have shared their stories.
You can also read books about depression; while some nonfiction options might help you better understand the specific symptoms, fictional books about depression can also offer valuable insight into the mind of a depressed person. Fully understanding what your loved one is experiencing is a great first step in supporting them.
2. Encourage treatment
Depression still has a stigma attached to it in our society, which means that your loved one might feel reluctant to admit they’re suffering. Talk to them directly about what you’ve noticed in their behavior (sleeping more, not eating, etc.) and let them know you’re concerned. Suggest they begin treatment so that they can possibly feel better. You can help by offering to set up a session for them with a therapist or help them make an appointment to see their doctor. Then keep encouraging follow-up sessions or medications that might help reduce their symptoms.
3. Take them seriously
Depression is a very real condition – people are not pretending they have it to get attention. This means that you should take your loved one at their word; if they’re feeling depressed, you should believe them. Also, if someone is expressing thoughts of suicide, you should always take this seriously. Pay attention to how they’re doing, and if you think they’re in trouble, contact a suicide helpline to help them get proper support, or call 911 if they’re in immediate danger. Threats of suicide or suicide attempts are indeed cries for help – make sure you’re listening.
4. Offer your help
Sometimes you can best offer support by just making their lives easier. Offer to drive them to therapy appointments or to the grocery store, pick up things for them that they might need, or help with chores around their house. These little gestures can go a long way for people who are often struggling just to get out of bed.
5. Be there to listen
Perhaps the most caring thing you can do for a loved one with depression is to listen to them. Let them talk about their struggles, and offer expressions of empathy back. As long as you validate their feelings and their experience, you’re doing the very best thing for them. That means you express no judgment about their situation (and offer no suggestions of what you think they should be doing to get better). As much as you want to help, hearing someone else’s suggestions can actually feel even more disempowering to a depressed person.
Being there to listen is also why emotional support animals (ESA) can be so helpful. The animal can provide a caring companion who doesn’t bog them down with human emotions or words.
6. Allow them to feel however they’re feeling
People with depression often feel like the world is wanting them to change – to be more positive, to just look on the bright side. As a supportive person, you can simply allow them to have their feelings. This means you don’t force them to cheer up or try to be more active than they’re able to be. Just show them that you love them and that they’re perfect the way they are, even when that means they’re a person with depression.
7. Be available as much as possible
Try to let your loved one know that you’re available for them when they need support. You can remind them that you’re here for them, even if you lead a busy life. Being available is less about how many hours you’re able to dedicate to them and more about answering their texts or calls when they do reach out. Just show up whenever you can, and your loved one will end up feeling supported.
8. Check in often
Depressed people often feel isolated and incredibly lonely. They can sink into despair thinking the world would be better off without them. Combat this thinking by checking in with them frequently. This can be in a number of different ways: phone calls, emails, texts, or just stopping by to say hello. Your job in supporting a loved one with depression is to remind them that they’re not alone, and checking in can be a great reminder for them that they have support.
9. Make plans to do something fun
It can be challenging for people with depression to leave the house or to feel like doing social activities. Make plans with them to do something they’d enjoy. Whether you’re seeing a movie or taking a walk in the park, you can help schedule things they’ll look forward to. However, please remember: your loved one might cancel at the last minute if their symptoms become overwhelming. Don’t make a big deal out of this – avoid making them feel bad about it and just try rescheduling something for another time.
10. Make sure to take care of yourself too
Caring for or spending a lot of time with a depressed person can often affect how you’re actually feeling yourself. To avoid burnout or overwhelm, make sure you’re providing yourself with lots of time for self-care activities. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to properly support your loved one when they need it the most.
Depression can be a horrible condition to experience, but your loved one is more likely to overcome it (or at least better manage it) if they have a supportive person in their life. Follow these techniques and join them in their fight against depression.