Supporting a loved who is suffering from depression can be overwhelming and intimidating especially if you do not know how to help or where to start. Depression is such a widespread mental health condition that it makes sense to take time to learn how to better navigate these situations. Here are some ways you can respond to a loved one who may be experiencing a depressive episode.
It’s important to inform your loved one of your concerns in a compassionate way. Gently approach them and tell them what signs you’ve noticed and why you think it is worth exploring further. Be patient and allow them time to process your concerns. You want them to be open and receptive to your concerns rather than pressured or judged. Be understanding if they are not willing to talk, you can offer to revisit the topic at another time when they feel more comfortable.
If and/or when they are open to discussing things further, be ready to listen. Pay attention as they share how they’re feeling and what they’ve been experiencing. Give them nonverbal cues like nodding your head to show that what they’re saying is important. Someone who is depressed may not always be able to identify the cause of their mood disturbance, which can lead to them feeling ashamed and hopeless. Instinctually you may want to say things like, “there’s no need to be depressed, think about the good things you have,” “it could be worse, I’m sure you’ll be fine” or “you’re strong, you’ll get over this.” While the intention may be good, these statements are dismissive and oversimplify the challenges they are facing. Instead, acknowledge and validate their distress. Examples of supportive statements are:
“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been having a difficult time.”
“I care about you, and I am here to support you in whatever way you need.”
“You do not have to go through this alone, I am here with you.”
Learn about depression
Understanding depression can really enhance the support you are able to provide to your loved one. Likewise, taking time to learn about the condition communicates to them that you are committed to their care. Some useful things to know are what depression is, its symptoms, treatment options, and progression.
Depression can affect anyone. Symptoms can vary in severity from mild to severe. They can impact various areas of functioning such as, social, occupational, and relational. They can manifest differently from person to person. Some people may experience more sadness and fatigue while others may display irritability and anger. The same goes for recovery – there are many treatment options and finding one that works can take time. This process may wear on your loved one and they can start to feel defeated and unmotivated to continue seeking treatment. Have patience with them. Remind them that getting better takes time.
Support them Getting Treatment
Depression is a treatable condition, nonetheless, taking the first step to get help can be daunting. Your loved one may have a similar experience and helping them through the process of seeking treatment can be a great relief. Assist them with finding a qualified professional. Schedule an appointment with a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Help them navigate insurance and billing issues. Set reminders for upcoming appointments. Offer to take them to appointments. These are a few of many ways that you can support your loved one getting treatment and, even increase the likelihood of them sticking with it.
Help with Activities of Daily Living
Attending therapy and taking medication are essential components in treating depression. To get the most out of treatment there needs to a commitment to doing work between sessions. Depression can make even the simplest of daily activities seem challenging. If they’re having a hard time attending to their personal hygiene, household chores, daily errands, etc. offer to do some tasks on their behalf or suggest doing some together. Encourage them to maintain a routine, eat a healthy diet and stay physically active as these are activities that can improve their mood.
If your loved one is resistant in any way, that’s okay – allow them to do things as they feel comfortable. Be empathetic about where they are in their journey. Let them know you respect their decision and will be there when they’re ready to take next steps.
Supporting someone with depression – even with an informative guide – is stressful. Depression doesn’t only affect the person suffering, but also those around them. Throughout this journey, be mindful of how it is impacting your own mental health. Take appropriate time for yourself. Engage in self-care. Maintain consistent eating and sleeping patterns. Attending to our own needs when our loved one is suffering in far greater ways may feel selfish – it’s not. Taking care of yourself models for them ways in which we can take control of our wellbeing. It also ensures that you do not overwhelm yourself to the point where you can’t provide support.