Depression is a diagnosable mental health condition. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might expect 一 over a quarter of a billion people worldwide are estimated to suffer from a depressive disorder. Sadly, depression doesn’t only affect the person who’s diagnosed with it; it’s also extremely difficult for friends and family members to watch their loved one battle this condition.
Watching a loved one suffer through depression can leave you feeling helpless. It’s hard to know what to do to support someone going through such a painful time.
This guide will walk you through what to do 一 and not do 一 when supporting someone with depression. We’ll talk about simple but effective ideas about how to help someone who is depressed, as well as what to do when your loved one is suicidal or is pushing you away.
If you or a loved one are having thoughts about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
12 Effective Ways to Help Someone Who Is Depressed
It can be challenging to know how to help someone who is depressed. However, you can do many practical things to help your friend or loved one get through this difficult time.
Here are ten ideas to start:
1. Recognize the signs, and don’t be afraid to ask about them.
You can’t help someone with depression if you don’t recognize the signs. Unfortunately, people with depression often struggle to open up to others about their diagnosis, so it can be helpful if you’re already aware of the signs and symptoms of depression.
Some common signs and symptoms of depression to watch out for include:
- Appearing to be in a consistent sad mood
- Withdrawing from loved ones
- Lack of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Moving slowly or appearing to be fatigued
- Being more irritable than usual
- Talking about death or suicide
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
If you observe any of these signs in your loved one, don’t hesitate to approach the subject with them. Ignoring symptoms of depression won’t make them go away. Use non-judgmental and empathetic language when asking your loved one about what you’ve noticed.
You might try saying something like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been withdrawn lately, and I’m concerned. I just wanted to check in with you and your mental health. Whatever you’re going through, you can talk to me about it.”
2. Listen non-judgmentally.
The last thing that someone with depression needs is to feel judged. If your loved one trusts you enough to share their experiences with you, then make sure you listen to them without any judgment whatsoever.
Understand that depression is an illness, and your loved one is, in no way, responsible for being sick with it. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and it can affect anyone. Support your loved one just as non-judgmentally as you would support someone with a physical health condition like cancer.
It’s okay to ask questions, but don’t ask them from a place of judgment. For example, ask, “What do you think is making you feel this way?” instead of, “You have such a wonderful life; why would you feel like this?” Be patient with your loved one; recovery is often a long-term process.
3. Don’t give unsolicited advice.
Often, people with depression are flooded with tips and advice that they never asked for. For example, people might tell them to get outside more, take medication, or start exercising.
Although guidance from someone you trust can be an essential part of recovery for depression, it can also be confusing when everyone around you is offering different solutions. The advice can also make people feel like their feelings are a “problem” that needs to be “fixed.”
Try to stay away from advice unless it’s asked for. Your loved one may need someone to listen to them, not fix all their problems. Respect that your loved one is the expert on their own lives and that they’re capable of finding their solutions when they’re ready.
Of course, it may be necessary to intervene more directly if you feel like your loved one is a danger to themselves or others (for example, if they’ve expressed suicidal intentions).
4. Help them connect to mental health resources.
Social support can make people more resilient against the effects of mental illnesses, including depression. However, often it’s not enough on its own. Depression is a mental illness, which means that people who live with it usually need treatment to recover fully.
One of the most important things you can do to help someone depressed is to get them connected to mental health resources. Depression often drains us of the energy to make significant changes in our lives. Connecting to resources is a practical way to help your loved ones start getting out of their suffering.
If your loved one has health insurance, many psychiatrists, treatment centers, or mental health therapists accept it. But, remember, whether your loved one decides to use these resources is up to them alone.
5. Validate their feelings.
Psychologically speaking, validation is the act of helping someone understand their feelings are normal and human. Validation might be compelling for your loved one if they already beat themselves up for having depression. For example, some people with depression may think something like, “Other people have it so much worse than me. I am so privileged 一 what right do I have to be depressed?”
Let your loved ones know that their feelings and experiences are normal and valid. You can remind them that depression is a painful and disruptive mental illness and can affect anyone regardless of their background.
6. Discourage drug and alcohol use.
Some might feel inviting your loved one with depression out for a drink or two may cheer them up. You could think, “Having a couple of drinks will help get their mind off things. What’s the harm?”
The problem is that substance use and depression have a complex relationship 一 and drinking or doing drugs often make depression worse. If you’re looking for ideas on how to help someone who is depressed, inviting them out for a drink is the last thing you should do.
If you notice that your loved one has started using more drugs and alcohol than usual since their depression symptoms began, talk to them about it. Let them know that you’re concerned, and offer to spend time with them in sober settings.
7. Learn about depression.
In addition to recognizing its symptoms, it may be helpful for you to learn more about the causes and neurobiology of depression. When you are informed about depression as an illness, you may be less likely to judge your loved one or treat them as if depression is their fault.
There’s a lot of information on the internet about mental illness. However, make sure your information comes from an authoritative source. Some great examples are found in The Center • A Place of HOPE Depression Treatment blog.
8. Help with everyday tasks and chores.
One of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue. The physical and emotional exhaustion that often comes with depression can make it difficult to complete everyday chores. Therefore, it may be helpful for you to offer to take care of some of these things for your loved one while they work on their recovery.
For example, can you offer to do weekly grocery shopping for your loved one? Can you cook them nourishing meals? Can you offer childcare so that they have some time themselves to practice self-care? Listening can go a long way in supporting someone with depression, but taking care of practical tasks may make it easier for them to focus on their mental health.
9. Keep reaching out.
It’s not uncommon for people with depression to isolate themselves from their loved ones. You might find that you try to show support for your loved one, only to be pushed away. Maybe your loved one has stopped saying “yes” to your invitations or stopped responding to your messages.
Don’t take it personally 一 and keep reaching out. Even if your loved one doesn’t have the energy to engage with your efforts, just knowing that there’s someone out there who cares about them can make a difference. Reaching out also gives your loved one an easy opportunity to return to spending time with friends and family when they feel ready.
10. Remind them of their strengths.
Feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing often come along with depression. Remind your loved ones of their strengths and positive qualities to counteract these feelings.
It’s essential that your affirmations are genuine and don’t sound like superficial “cheerleading.” Avoid generic statements like, “You can do it!” Instead, try to be as specific as possible when you point out the person’s qualities. Some examples of things you might say are:
- “I’ve seen you get through tough times before, and I know you are strong enough to do it again.”
- “Your kind heart makes the world a better place.”
- “I’m grateful to have such a thoughtful and caring friend in my life.”
- Remind them of a time that they were supportive of you during a rough time in your life.
- “You are so talented, and you bring so much beauty into the world.”
11. Offer hope.
People with depression often feel hopeless, like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. However, you can offer your loved ones hope genuinely by reminding them of the things worth living for.
Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as toxic positivity. Avoid saying things like “Just be grateful for everything you have” or “Don’t worry; everything will be fine.” Instead, try asking them about things that make life worthwhile for them. For example, ask about a hobby or a pet you know they care deeply about.
12. Take care of yourself.
Lastly, taking care of yourself is a big part of supporting a loved one with depression. But, as they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. In other words, you can’t help anyone at all if your mental health is suffering.
Don’t neglect your self-care practices in the name of supporting your loved one. Make sure you get plenty of uninterrupted sleep (7 or more hours a night is recommended for most adults), eat nourishing meals, and move your body in healthy ways. In addition, taking care of your mental health 一 going to therapy or a support group yourself might be helpful.
How to Help Someone Who Is Depressed and Suicidal
Suicidal thoughts and feelings are sometimes (but not always) a part of depression. If you recognize any warning signs of suicide in your loved one, you must take them seriously.
If you notice any warning signs of suicide, or if your loved one lets you know that they’re having suicidal thoughts, take appropriate action right away. Don’t panic, and talk to the person about your concerns. Don’t beat around the bush, and address the issue of suicide directly.
If it’s safe and appropriate to do so, let other people in your loved one’s life know about your worries. Provide your loved one with the national suicide hotline number: 1-800-273-8255. You can also call this number yourself to ask for guidance about the best course of action for someone in your position.
If appropriate, help your loved one make a safety plan. Please help them remove any dangerous or sharp objects from their reach, including knives, firearms, ropes, and certain medications. Please encourage them to tell their medical provider or therapist about their suicidal thoughts.
Keep in mind that not all suicidal thoughts equal a crisis. For example, many people have passive thoughts about wanting to die but never make an action plan to end their lives. You can use the Columbia Protocol to ask your loved one’s questions and determine if they’re going through a mental health crisis.
If you feel like they may be at immediate risk of suicide, stay by their side. Call 9-1-1 or go with them to the nearest emergency room. Even if there’s no crisis, make sure to stay present in your loved one’s life and continue following up.
For more information about how to help someone who is suicidal, visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call them at 1-800-273-8255.
What to Do When Someone With Depression Is Pushing You Away
These tips are helpful when the person you love is open to support. But what about if they don’t want to talk to you about their depression? What can you do when someone you love with depression pushes you away?
This can be difficult, and the answer may vary depending on your relationship. People have different reasons for pushing loved ones away when they’re depressed. It may be that they feel ashamed of what they’re going through. Their depression may not leave them enough energy to keep up with their close relationships. They might simply be getting adequate support from someone else in their lives, like their therapist.
Here are some dos and don’ts for when someone with depression pushes you away.
Don’t take anything personally.
Try not to take it personally when someone with depression pushes you away. Depression is an illness that distorts your thinking, and it often makes people feel like they’re an emotional burden on the people around them. It may also make them feel unlovable and worthless.
Because of this (along with other reasons), your loved one may reject your support. It may even feel like they’re rejecting you personally. Don’t take these rejections personally although it can be hard not to. The most likely explanation is that the rejection has nothing to do with you and has everything to do with depression.
Please don’t make them feel guilty about pushing you away.
A guilt trip is the last thing that people with depression need while fighting for recovery. So never make your loved one feel guilty for their symptoms, even if they’ve become absent from your relationship.
Avoid making them feel, in any way, like depression is their fault. For example, don’t say things like, “You never call me anymore; you’re being a bad friend.” or, “I thought you loved me enough to be able to trust me with your problems.”
At the same time, if your loved one is being abusive toward you and blaming it on their depression, it’s okay to put up healthy boundaries. For example, you might say something like, “I understand that you’re battling depression, and I’m here to support you through that. But I’m not okay with you treating me this way. If depression is causing this behavior, then I’m asking you to seek help.”
Please don’t force them into talking to you.
Don’t pressure your loved ones to communicate with you if they don’t want to. Even if the person does count on you for emotional support, there may be things that they’re comfortable sharing with you 一 and things that they aren’t comfortable sharing. So don’t press them for any details they don’t want to tell you about.
Allow your loved one to have boundaries. They aren’t required to share every detail of their emotional life with you, no matter how much you care. However, if you feel like they might be at risk for suicide, and they’re keeping this a secret from you, then it might be necessary to intervene or ask a professional for help.
Do continue to reach out.
When someone with depression pushes you away, it can feel tempting to give up on them. Don’t. Be patient, and understand that recovery is a long process. Keep reaching out to them, and let them know you’re around to support them when they’re ready.
Do this in a way that doesn’t come across as pressure for your loved one. Just let them know that they are invited to events and that you still care about them, even if they don’t want to talk. Just knowing you’re there can make a big difference.
Do take action if you’re concerned about your loved one’s safety.
Lastly, take appropriate action if you’re concerned that your loved one may harm themselves or try to end their life. Is there someone else in your loved one’s life with who they trust and feel safe? Can you let them know about your concerns?
If you think your loved one is suicidal, but they’re rejecting your help, that can put you in a tough spot. But, at the same time, if your loved one is in a crisis, they must get help from somewhere. Suicide is a preventable cause of death, and you can do things to make a difference.
Depression Treatment at The Center • A Place of HOPE
If your loved one is suffering from depression, there is hope. The Center has been voted a Top Ten facility for depression treatment, and our team can help your loved one start making progress toward recovery.
Our unique Whole Person Care approach ensures that your loved one’s depression treatment will address the physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual elements of their life. In this way, they can start healing from the different ways that depression has affected them.
Get your loved one back from the throes of depression. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your family.