Have you ever tried to help a loved one with their depression? I have, and have felt every emotion imaginable in the process – sadness, helplessness, fear, guilt, even frustration and anger. I’ve felt as if my efforts were not just unfruitful, but overlooked and even resented by the very person I was trying to help. How to help someone with depression was an absolute mystery to me.
Although I had battled depression myself, the further I got from it, the fuzzier my memories became. But even if I had perfect memory, every depression experience is different.
Learning How to Help Someone With Depression Begins With Understanding Their State of Mind
So I began to research, and stumbled upon an incredible description of the depressed mind by Marriage and Family Therapist Cynthia Lubow. You can find the full description in my post, Inside a Depressed Person’s Mind | The Best Description You’ll Ever Read. It is definitely worth the read to fully understand what your loved one is facing.
The short version is that the world is a dark and hopeless place. So they can’t remember ever feeling happy, in love, or any other positive emotion, and are sure that they will never feel any better. Everything is wrong, irritating, and unbearable.
Everyone is unloving and unlovable. No one seems to understand or care what they’re going through. No one is truly sincere.
It takes ten times more effort than it used to, to accomplish a task; this makes it difficult and frustrating to accomplish anything. Their negative self-image is overwhelming.
How to Help Someone With Depression
What can you do in the face of such a dark and seemingly insurmountable situation?
- First and foremost, watch for signs of suicide. What a positive start to our list, right?! But the sad fact is that depression and suicide often go hand in hand. And you can’t hold a conversation with or support someone if they commit suicide first. Signs include a preoccupation with death, expressing feelings of self-hate or hopelessness, acting dangerously, getting their affairs in order and saying goodbye, seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal items, and a sudden sense of calm. If you believe your loved one may commit suicide, do not leave them alone. If you’re in the U.S., call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Second, start a conversation. This is less about giving advice, and more about listening without judgement. Just talking to someone honestly about their situation can be an enormous help. You could start by simply saying, “You’ve seemed down lately…I wanted to check in with you.” or “I’ve been feeling concerned about you lately.” HelpGuide.org provides a brilliant guide of what to say and what not to say to someone in a depressed state of mind:
- Third, encourage them to get help. This step might be difficult since depression may convince them that treatment won’t help. It may also rob them of the energy and motivation they need to find a doctor, schedule an appointment, and actually attend it. You can help them by offering to find a doctor and schedule the appointment for them, or to attend it with them. If they’re not open to a psychologist or counselor, you could suggest a general check-up with their regular doctor, which might seem less intimidating. They may also receive their doctor’s professional opinion on their depression better than a loved one’s.
- Fourth, support them. Help in any way that you can. Offer to go for walks or to the gym with them, since exercise is a natural antidepressant. Lubow suggests that, “Loved ones can gently hold and show love and commitment to the depressed person, try not to take on the person’s reality, but also not argue with him or her about it. They can also gently remind the person that depression causes his or her perspective on everything to change, and he or she is unable to think outside of depression mode at the moment. It is a time for the person to avoid making decisions, or avoid doing anything significant that requires a nondepressed perspective. If this is a repeated experience for this person, it can be helpful to discuss all of this between episodes so he or she is more prepared when caught in the quicksand.”
- And finally, take care of yourself. Because maintaining your own emotional strength will enable you to provide ongoing support. So set realistic boundaries about what you can and can’t do, to avoid your own burnout and resentment. Speak up if your loved one upsets you. Talk honestly about how you’re feeling before your emotions build up and make it difficult to express yourself with kindness. It may be challenging for your loved one to hear, but it will be less destructive than their picking up on your building resentment and feeling worse. Depression can make your loved one act emotionally distant, say hurtful things, or lash out in anger. Supporting them may be a difficult road, so don’t be afraid to seek support for yourself if needed.
Wrap It Up
I no longer wonder how to help someone with depression. I now watch for signs of suicide, start a conversation, encourage them to get help, support them, and take care of myself.
If you’re reading this post and other resources to learn how to help someone with depression, you’re an incredible person! Take hope! Because a recent study found that supportive loved ones cured depression for 50% of study participants. I know how frustrating it is, but I also know that it doesn’t last forever. So hang in there, friend! We’re here for you!
P.S. Looking for more info on depression? Then check out the rest of our series:
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*DebTakesHerLifeBack.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on DebTakesHerLifeBack.com.
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