Updated: May 9
Understanding how to help someone suffering from depression is critical. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 21 million adults in the U.S. have depression. Because it is one of the most common mental health conditions, chances are good that you or someone you know has experienced at least one episode of depression.
If someone you love has depression, you may wonder how you can help. You may experience complicated feelings like worry, disappointment, and anger.
This article discusses how to support someone with depression. It focuses on strategies to offer support and encourage your loved one to seek treatment for their condition.
While every person's experience with depression is unique (as is the experience of supporting someone who is depressed), here are a few ideas to start with. Learning more about how to support someone with depression can help you feel more empowered and ready to lend a hand.
Take Care of Yourself
You won't be able to support someone else if you feel overwhelmed and depleted. Periodically take some time to step back from the situation and recharge your batteries.
While you can't "catch" depression like a cold or the flu, the shared genetic and environmental influences may make it more likely that people who live together or are members of the same family will become depressed.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Depression can be demanding for the person experiencing it and those who care about it. Remember that your feelings are a valid response to what can be, at times, a challenging situation to navigate.
You may find it helpful to find a caretaker support group, talk with a close friend, or see a counselor. Venting your frustrations rather than allowing them to build up is essential.
Get the Facts on Depression
Some trusted online resources provide facts about depression, including symptoms and treatment. Reading up on what depression can feel like and the myths, misconceptions, and stigma around mental illness can help you better understand your loved one's experience.
Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can offer to someone going through a hard time is your presence. Providing a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on can be very comforting. Be patient and let your loved one know you are there for them.
You may decide to share what you've learned about depression in your research, but the most important thing you can tell them is that you understand depression is not their fault and that they are not lazy, weak, or worthless.
It's Not Personal
Depression can impair a person's social skills and make them feel less like being around others. They may become withdrawn, shy, sullen, and angry.
While it can be hard to be on the receiving end of an outburst when someone who is depressed lashes out in anger, keep in mind that it may not be related to you at all—you might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When your loved one pulls away from you, it can be difficult not to take it personally—especially if you are in a romantic relationship. If your partner doesn't feel like having sex, you may feel rejected or worry they don't love you anymore.
Try to keep in mind that loss of sex drive is a classic symptom of depression. Sexual dysfunction can also be a side effect of the medications used to treat it.
Avoid Judgment and Blame
If someone you love is depressed and no longer able to do the activities they used to, including working or helping around the house, you may feel like they are lazy. When you get frustrated, remember that someone depressed isn't lazy—they're ill.
Everyday activities like cleaning the house, paying bills, or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming, if not impossible, to someone who is depressed. If your loved one's household responsibilities are piling up, you may be unable to take them on yourself.
In addition to resisting the urge to blame your loved one, try not to blame yourself. Know that it's OK if you need to ask for help.
Many people with depression take medication if not several. One way you can help is by educating yourself on how the drug works, what the side effects are, and knowing signs to look for that would indicate the treatment is not working or that your loved one has stopped taking a medication (i.e., withdrawal symptoms).
You can also help them remember to refill prescriptions, keep their pills organized, make sure they are taking their medication as prescribed, and reassure them that they are not "crazy" for needing to take it.
Learn About Therapy
In addition to learning about the available medication options, spend some time researching the therapy options available to treat depression. Types of therapy that may be helpful for your loved one:
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that helps people recognize and change negative thinking patterns that play a part in symptoms of depression.
Interpersonal therapy focuses on helping people improve their communication skills and interpersonal relationships.
Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of therapy that incorporates aspects of mindfulness and helps people learn to manage stress, improve relationships, and regulate their emotions.
Find a Support Group
Support groups can be a beneficial resource for people who have depression, as well as their friends and family. Talking to other people who share your experience can be a great way to find encouragement and support. Other members can also offer advice, tips, and information about resources that you might find helpful.
In addition to in-person support groups that might be available in your community, there are also online groups and depression chat rooms where you can discuss your experiences and share your feelings.
Offer your loved one hope in whatever form they can accept it. It may be faith in God or another kind of higher power, their children or pets, or anything that makes them want to keep living.
Know what matters to your loved one and find ways to remind them when they feel down and hopeless. Be sure to remind yourself of these things, too.
If someone with depression shows signs of suicidal ideation or self-harming, or you are worried they are planning to attempt suicide, they need immediate help.
For your loved one's safety, know the warning signs that could indicate they are suicidal, such as:
Preoccupation with death
Creating a will or giving away possessions
Talking openly about wanting to kill oneself
Saying goodbye as though it's the last time
Development of a suicide plan, acquiring the means to carry it out, "rehearsal" behavior, setting a time for the attempt
Statements like, "You'd be better off without me" or "I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up."
Suddenly switching from being very depressed to being very happy or calm for no apparent reason
Love Them Unconditionally
People who are depressed often feel a deep sense of guilt. They may believe that they are a burden to those around them. Sometimes, they even think their loved ones would be "better off" with them.
One of the ways you can combat these feelings is by regularly showing and telling them that you love them unconditionally. When you become discouraged or angry, you must reassure them that you are frustrated with their illness, not them.
When you care about someone with depression and are trying to find the best way to help, you must have some support yourself. Whether it comes from other people in your life or a support group for caregivers, taking care of yourself strengthens your ability to help your loved one and sets a positive example of good self-care.
Please don’t hesitate to ask for help if you or a loved one is experiencing these challenges. Hope is out there, and your life is important.
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Updated on June 02, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.