If someone you know has depression, you may feel helpless and wonder what to do. However, a good starting point is to understand that depression isn‘t anyone’s fault or failing. It’s also not something your loved one can easily manage without help from a healthcare professional — and from supportive friends and family. This knowledge can provide the courage and motivation to find ways you can offer support and care. While you can’t fix someone’s depression, your support and understanding can help. Here are some ways you can do so:
Educate yourself about depression
There are many resources to do so, including at Mayo Clinic and the National Institute of Mental Health. The more you learn about depression, how it affects people and how it can be treated, the better you’ll be able help someone else.
Express your concern
Acknowledge the person’s pain and struggles without implying that you know how they feel. Listen if they want to talk, but don’t try to push the person into talking 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 Being withdrawn is often part of the illness.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 there and willing to be supportive. Offer hope. Remind the individual that depression is treatable, and that they will likely get better with the right treatment and support. 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 reduce 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 too hard or expect too much too soon. Also, gently remind the individual of the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. Plan to make changes together to support each other.
Be aware of suicide risk
If you or someone you know is thinking, talking, posting on social media sites or texting about suicide, get help right away. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988. It’s free and available 24/7. There are warning signs that a person is preparing for a suicide attempt or is at greater risk of suicide:
• Mood — Displays feelings of serious depression, moodiness or sadness. Shows little energy.
• Communication — Expresses feelings of being worthless or helpless. Talks about being a burden on loved ones. Researches, reads, or writes about suicide or death. Withdraws from family, friends, school or work.
• Behavior — Engages in high-risk behaviors such as reckless driving or physical fights. Increases use of alcohol or illegal drugs.
• Plans — Plans and obtains the means to kill oneself. Buys a gun or stocks up on pills. Gives away possessions or sets affairs in order.
Remember that thoughts and feelings of suicide can be intense, but temporary. Getting them connected to supports such as their treatment team, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the local emergency department is essential.