Once you understand that depression isn’t something your loved one can easily manage without help, it may be more possible for you to offer support and care. Here are some ways you can help:
- Express your concern. Acknowledge the person’s pain without implying that you know how they feel. Listen if they want to talk, but don’t try to draw the person out and don’t ask intrusive questions. Being withdrawn is often part of the illness. Don’t take it personally.
- Ask how you can help. Your loved one may not have specific suggestions of things that you can do, but they will know that you’re willing to be supportive. Offer hope. Remind the individual that depression is treatable, and that they will likely get better. If your loved one is undergoing treatment, gently remind them that it takes time for treatment to work.
- Give positive reinforcement. Depressed people often feel worthless, and they dwell on their faults and shortcomings. Remind your loved one of their strengths and competencies and how much they mean to you.
- Keep your sense of humor. You’re likely to feel frustrated and even angry at times. That’s OK but try not to vent in front of the person and don’t take your anger out on them. Use humor to diffuse tension and to lighten the atmosphere, but don’t make jokes at your loved one’s expense.
- Encourage healthy behavior and activities. Invite your loved one to join you in doing activities or visiting family or mutual friends. But don’t push and don’t expect too much too soon. Also, gently remind the individual of the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet.
The pandemic and mental health
About 20% of U.S. adults reported a decline in mental health due to the pandemic. This includes 53% who said that they were very restless and 52% who said that they sat around and did nothing recently due to exhaustion. Caregivers, especially parents of young children who were unable to attend in-person school, reported unusually high levels of stress and anxiety.
- If you think you or a loved one may have symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor. It can be as simple as saying that you haven’t been yourself lately and you’d like to talk about it. Counseling (psychotherapy) and medications are common treatments.
- In older adults with mild depression, psychotherapy can be just as effective as medications. For moderate to severe depression, a combination of psychotherapy and medications is usually best.
- Mental health apps can be cost effective, portable ways to learn and strengthen your coping skills. Free mental health apps that may be helpful include COVID Coach, Breathe2Relax, Happify, Mindfulness Coach, MindShiftCBT, SuperBetter and Insight Timer. Still, keep in mind that apps should not serve as a substitute for therapy.
- If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number. If you’re feeling suicidal, but you aren’t immediately thinking of hurting yourself, call a suicide hotline or reach out to a friend or loved one, someone in your faith community, or a health care provider.