How To Support A Depressed Person

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 06/24/2022

Those suffering from mental health illnesses need supportive people around them to deal with their challenges. The fact is, depression, as a mood disorder, can be overwhelming and interfere with important aspects of your life. Dealing with it all alone may be difficult, but the assistance of friends, family, therapists can help.

Do you know that your support and love can help a loved one or family member? Although it can be challenging to support and be there for someone with depression, especially when you feel helpless and wonder what to do, extending a helping hand regardless of potential future challenges may help an individual navigating depression feel more balanced in their life. It’s also important to draw boundaries for yourself when you need to recharge. 

According to research, over 7% of American adults suffered from a major depressive episode in 2017. If you know someone experiencing depression, you should let them know that they not alone. It affects people irrespective of age, sex, race, and so on. In fact, over 300 million children and adults live with depression. Supporting someone with depression is more than just listening to someone saying, “I think I'm depressed.” After noticing some signs that may indicate that your loved one may be affected by depression, you should advise them to seek professional help.  They may also want to try this online depression test for potential clarity about the symptoms they may be experiencing.

What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?

The way depressive symptoms are experienced may vary from person to person. The following are some of the potential symptoms you may see in a depressed person:

  • Looking sad or tearful
  • Appearing more hopeless than usual or pessimistic about the future
  • Talking about feeling worthless, empty, or guilty
  • Appearing less interested in activities they used to enjoy— not spending time together with others or frequently communicating like before
  • Appearing unusually irritable or getting upset easily
  • Moving slowly or having less energy
  • Neglecting basic hygiene such as brushing or showering
  • Having trouble sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping excessively (hypersomnia)
  • Having trouble deciding on things or concentrating or appearing forgetful
  • Eating less or more than usual.

What Are The Things To Do To Support A Depressed Person?

Someone experiencing a serious mood disorder need help whether they asked for it or not. The following are what you can do to support such a person:

  • Be Attentive To Them:Those experiencing depression often feel and think that no one is there for them. You can try to remind them that you are there for them. You can start by building their trust in you— share your challenges with them and ask a specific question such as “What’s on your mind? It seems like you've had hard times lately". Your conversation may achieve your intended aim if you use listening techniques such as asking questions to get information, validating their feelings, showing interest or empathy with your body language, asking open questions without appearing "pushy," and experiencing your concern. It’s great if you have a conversation face-to-face. 
  • Assist Them In Reaching Out For Support: Some individuals with depression may find it difficult to find support themselves or are unaware that they are depressed. If they are aware of their condition, gently encourage them to look into counseling options. You can help review available therapists and get them prepared for what they may face when they get to meet a therapist in person (you can help list the questions they may want to ask or things to mention in the first treatment session). If they feel reluctant about visiting, try to encourage them to make the first appointment.
  • Encourage Them To Stick With Therapy: An individual with depression may experience mood swings, which may sometimes make them feel like not continuing therapy. Depression can drain your energy and increase the feelings of self-isolation. In this situation, try to encourage them by reminding them of the good thing they might have said about their last session— how productive it was.

You can also use the same method if they consider discontinuing their medication, possibly due to side effects.  Encourage them to see their psychiatrist if another antidepressant may be an option. You should let them know that sudden withdrawal from antidepressants without medical clearance may have serious implications.

  • Look After Yourself Too:Ensure that you don't drop everything while attending to another person's illness. You need to attend to your own needs too. Try to save some energy and ensure you don't feel frustrated or burn out. If this occurs, you may not be of much help to such a depressed person. To help yourself, you can set boundaries and practice self-care — these may include setting specific time you will be available for them or creating a way to get in touch with you when they need you.
  • Research What Depression Is:Knowledge is power, and it will greatly equip you with significant things you can share with a depressed person. You can read on the causes, signs and symptoms, treatment, and diagnostic criteria on your own. Talking to them about some specific symptoms they are experiencing may be helpful in one way or the other.
  • Assist Them With Their Daily Tasks: A depressed person may be affected even by the thoughts of handling day-to-day tasks. Things like shopping, laundry, paying bills, or groceries may make them feel overwhelmed. So, you can ask them what they need to do and help out. While doing chores, you can put on some music. This act can help relieve emotional stress.
  • Invite Them To Activities: Because they may have lost interest in activities, they may fail to turn up. However, you shouldn't relent. Try to continue extending invitations and let them know that you understand what they are going through and that it's understandable for them not to always keep to plans. Therefore, you should let them know that they are welcome anytime they're ready. 
  • Understand Their Challenges: Depression can be very deceptive. You may think it's gone, just to see it manifesting again. You may also need to try different treatment options before settling with one to help with your symptoms. Depression can't be cured. It can only be managed or treated. You may see an individual with depression experience depressive symptoms from time to time. Don't be discouraged, but be patient and be available anytime their symptoms are triggered again. You must know that there is no clear recovery timeline for depression.

  • Always Let Them Know That You Care: A regular reminder showing that you care about them can enhance their mood. You can stay in touch with them from time to time through text, call, or a quick visit. Try to make them feel important.
  • Understand That Depression Can Take Different Forms And Know Them:  Depression can manifest in different forms, such as a low mood or sadness. However, there are other symptoms that a depressed person can experience. These may include:
  • Irritability and anger
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or making decisions.
  • Confusion or memory problems
  • Increased fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Physical Symptoms (back pain, gastrointestinal problems, frequent headaches, or muscle pain).

It's important to know that an individual with depression can be in a bad mood or feel drained most times. You can help through your words, telling them that you're there to assist them with anything they may need help with.

What Are The Things To Avoid To Support A Depressed Person?

Helping them by not helping them... 

There are things you shouldn't do that may indirectly help a depressed person. These may include:

  • Avoiding taking a position on medication
  • Don't take things personally. Sometimes, they may do discouraging things like lashing out at in frustration or anger or canceling plans
  • Don't give advice. Even though you know that some lifestyle changes (such as getting regular exercise or eating a healthy diet) may help them, don't try to advise because they may not want to hear it. Wait for the right time when their mind is positively receptive. Until then, you should stick to your emphatic listening techniques
  • Avoid trying to fix them
  • Avoid comparing or minimizing their experience