How To Support Someone You Care About That's Living With Depression

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/11/2021

One of the most significant things you can do when supporting someone you care about with depression is to learn how it affects them. Understanding depression includes learning symptoms and recommendations for people with depression so you can know how to support them. People assume being depressed means being sad most of the time.  It is not always the case. A person with depression may experience mood and energy levels changes, making it challenging to engage in daily activities.

Understand How Depression Affects Your Loved One

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Depression is a treatable mood disorder affecting millions of people of all ages annually. It affects how people complete tasks and responsibilities. Some people experience profound emotional and physical pain while suffering in silence. When a loved one feels depressed, it can affect people, including family members, friends, and coworkers.

If you know someone with depression, you may have concerns about their well-being. You may feel sad, guilty, frustrated, or fearful, which is normal. The situation could become overwhelming if you neglect your feelings while trying to help your loved one cope. The support you provide your loved one is crucial to helping them. They need someone they can be comfortable with, encouraging them to take productive action to manage their symptoms.

You can help them with confronting negative thoughts, regaining positive physical energy, and helping them be optimistic so they can enjoy living. To start, spend time learning about depression, such as how someone diagnosed knows how to live with depression and manage it. Learn how to talk to them and ways you can best support them. And of course, don't forget to take care of your emotional health so you can be there for your loved one.

Recognize Symptoms

When it comes to explaining depression, understanding symptoms is significant. A person with depressive symptoms may experience a few at a time, and some signs are not visible. Sometimes it is obvious a person is depressed, but it helps to know symptoms to look for, including the following:

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  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or tearful

  • Experience outbursts of anger, frustration, or irritability over small things

  • Lack of interest in hobbies, activities, and things once enjoyed

  • Sleep problems such as insomnia

  • Lack of energy or feeling tired often

  • Changes in weight and appetite

  • Feeling restless, agitated, or anxious

  • Slowed body movements, speech, and thinking

  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or self-blame for previous failures

  • Problems concentrating, remembering things, and making decisions

  • Physical pain or discomfort without cause

  • Mentioning thoughts of self-harm or suicide

People with major depressive disorder or severe depression may have symptoms noticeable to their daily activities and responsibilities. It may affect how they communicate with others at home, work, and school. A depressed person may feel unhappy or miserable for no known reason. Kids and teens with depression may express irritability or crankiness instead of or in addition to sadness.

It is important to remember depression is serious. It may affect a person's motivation or will to do something. It may not be as easy for them to snap out of it. When a person has symptoms, you shouldn't take it personally. It can be challenging for them to express themselves, and they may say things that seem hurtful; it is the depression talking, not your loved one. Avoid making excuses for their symptoms or behavior. It could discourage them from getting help.

Your loved one may not be lazy but find it challenging to do things. You can encourage them to do activities that may help them feel better. At the same time, learn to be patient as they navigate how to manage their symptoms. As much as you want to help your friend, you can't fix their mood or be responsible for or lack happiness. You can offer support, but they must be willing to do what is necessary to feel better.

How To Talk To Your Loved One When You Don't Know What To Say

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People may find it challenging to know how to talk to someone with depression. Some feel they don't want to make their loved one feel worse or offend them. You may have feelings to share about their depression, but you don't want to insult them or ignore your concerns. Another important thing you can do for a depressed loved one is to listen. Be a good listener when they want to talk and use what they say to help you develop a thoughtful response.

When possible, try talking to them in person. Many with depression find it helpful to speak with someone they are comfortable with in person. Let them know if they want to talk about anything you'll listen to. As you listen, avoid judgment. Continue reminding them over time, they can talk to you about their feelings. Some depressed people isolate or withdraw, so gentle persistence goes a long way.

When you start a conversation, you can mention that you're concerned about them or say something along the lines you've noticed a change in them and want to know if they are okay. While talking to them, ask if you could be of any assistance or if they need any help or support right now. Let them know they are not alone as they are going through a tough time. Encourage them to be hopeful. Let them know that even if you don't understand their pain, you care about them and want to provide support. Avoid saying things such as try to look on the bright side or snap out of it. Try to avoid making general statements that don't offer encouragement.

How To Encourage Them To Seek Help

Sometimes people with depression may not recognize when they should seek help. They may not know the symptoms or signs of depression. Some think their feelings and emotions are normal. Others may know something is wrong but feel ashamed. They may think they should be able to get over it themselves. Depressive symptoms may get worse without treatment. You can encourage them to get help by doing the following:

  • Let them know your concerns and what you notice about them
  • Learn how to explain depression and that it is not a weakness but improves with treatment
  • Help them to consider seeking support from a licensed mental health professional
  • Let them know you'll help them prepare for appointments or get answers to questions they have about depression
  • Show you're willing to help them by letting them know how you can offer support

If you think their symptoms are severe or life-threatening, seek help immediately. 

Be Aware Of Worsening Symptoms And What You Can Do

Some people with depression may experience worsening symptoms that could lead to self-harm or suicide attempts. People may think their loved one won't think about harming themselves, but you can't be too careful when observing warning signs. A depressed person may experience distorted thinking affecting their judgment. Some believe when they are in deep pain, suicide can relieve them. It is a danger to a person when they feel suicidal. They may express hopelessness, act dangerously, or talk about harming themselves or death. You can let them know they can speak to you about their feelings.  Seek help immediately if you are concerned about their safety.

How To Provide Support

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As they go through treatment, they will need support and encouragement. Helping your loved one cope is significant. It requires understanding and patience. When they need help, offer it; if they accept it, great. If not, that is okay too. You can offer to help with running errands or staying on a schedule. Keep your expectations realistic. You may struggle to watch them progress slowly, but it will take time for them to adjust to doing things in ways that work for them.

Set an example for them to follow. Eat healthily and be physically active. Avoid self-destructive behaviors. Invite them to go with you sometimes for a walk or grab a bite to eat. Don't get discouraged if they don't want to. Consider joining a support group and engaging in other forms of healthy practice like meditation, attending religious services, or connecting with organizations providing mental health support and advocacy.

LOOKOUT FOR YOURSELF TOO!

People naturally want to help others fix problems, but you have to remember your loved one must take the lead in their recovery. In the meantime, look after yourself by continuing to maintain your daily routine. Your priorities should include your well-being. Your well-being should be in a good place before trying to help others. Set boundaries, so you don't overwork yourself, helping someone else. Get support not just for your loved one, but for yourself. There are support groups for people who are learning how to help their loved ones deal with depression. It may help you understand other sides of depression and how you can help others and yourself. To find out if you may be suffering from depression, take our quick online test.

Helping a loved one with depression is essential when understanding it affects them and knowing useful ways. Let them know you care, you will be there, and you'll be there with them getting through this together.