Helping someone with depression

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Depression is a common mental health condition that can cause impairments to a person’s day to daylife. If you know someone who is experiencing depression, there are ways that you can support them and help them manage their condition.

How to tell if a loved one is suffering from depression

It may not always be clear when someone is experiencing an episode of depression, but there are certain warning signs and symptoms that can make it easier to notice if a loved one is suffering. These warning signs and symptoms may include: [1][2]:

  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated
  • Crying more than usual
  • Making negative comments about themselves
  • Appearing very tired or low in energy
  • Being unable or unwilling to take part in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Being very restless and fidgeting or being very slow in their speech and movement
  • Eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • Spending a lot of time in bed

How to help someone with depression

If you want to support someone with depression, there are several ways you can help [3][4][5][6][7].

Listen

Let them talk about what is on their mind and how they are feeling. Try to be open to hearing their difficulties without becoming distracted or showing any judgment. Just listening can help to show that you care about them and will demonstrate empathy and compassion.

Learn more

It can be helpful to learn more about depressive disorders, including the possible symptoms and treatment options, as it can be easier to support your loved one if you have a better understanding of what they are going through. Similarly, it can provide you with the information you need to advise them on how and where to seek help.

Support them with asking for help

You can suggest options of how your loved one can seek professional help by letting them know what sort of support is available. You might even offer to make appointments for them, or go with them to meet professionals, if they feel that this would be helpful.

You cannot force your loved one to seek help, but you can show them that you are available and willing to help them in this process to make it easier for them.

Be there

Stay in contact with your loved one, whether in person or over the phone. Be available to talk or spend time together to help prevent them from feeling isolated and alone.

Gentle encouragement

It might be useful to help your loved one to make positive choices, such as engaging in physical activity, eating well, or taking part in their hobbies. They might not feel up to doing much, but you could try offering to go for a walk together or have lunch together.

You may also be able to help them with practical aspects of life and household chores, such as helping them cook and clean.  Although it is important to also gently encourage them to try and do these things for themselves, so they don’t lose their independence.

Acknowledge positives

Try to acknowledge when your loved one has done something positive, whether this is a part of their recovery process or something unrelated to their condition. Acknowledgement can help build their self-esteem and remind them of their improvements.

Talk about other things as well

Be sure to have conversations about things unrelated to their mental health, such as books, TV, hobbies, or other topics that they are interested in. Remember that they are still the same person and that their mental disorder does not define their personality. They may also want to be distracted from their condition and find that this takes their mind off negative thoughts.

Be patient

Recovering from depression can be a long and challenging process, so it is important to be patient with your loved one. Don’t expect them to take big steps with ease or to get better overnight. You may need to continue supporting them for a long time and should try not to put too much pressure on them.

Look after yourself

As recovery from depression can be a long process, you may find that you are spending a lot of time and energy trying to support your loved one, which can be emotionally and physically draining for you. It is important to take care of your own wellbeing during this time. Work on recognizing when you need to take time for yourself, when you need to say no, or when you need to ask for your own help.

Taking a break from caring for someone else may be crucial to your own mental health. Taking breaks can prevent you from also becoming unwell, so you should not feel guilty if this is the case and remember that your health is also very important.

What to say to someone with depression

It can be difficult to always know how best to communicate with someone who has depression, but there are certain things you can say that will likely be helpful or comforting, such as [3][5][6][7]:

  • ‘I’m here for you.’
  • ‘You can talk to me about anything.’
  • ‘I’m available if you want to tell me about what’s troubling you.’
  • ‘That sounds difficult, I’m sorry you’re going through this.’
  • ‘Can I do anything to help?’
  • ‘Would you like to talk about it, or would you prefer we do something together to take your mind off it?’
  • ‘Do you want some company?’
  • ‘I love you/I care about you.’
  • ‘Have you thought about speaking to your doctor/a mental health professional?’

These types of statements and questions can help to show your loved one that you are acknowledging their feelings, that you care about them, and that they are not alone.

What not to say to someone with depression

Similarly, there are certain things that are usually better to avoid saying, that can be unhelpful or hurtful, such as [3][5][7]:

  • ‘Cheer up.’
  • ‘Snap out of it.’
  • ‘You’ll get over it.’
  • ‘You’re being dramatic.’
  • ‘You’re just overreacting.’
  • ‘Why are you so sad, your life is easy?’
  • ‘You don’t seem depressed.’
  • ‘No wonder you’re depressed, all you do is watch TV/sleep/stay at home.’
  • ‘You’re ruining my good mood.’
  • ‘You’re affecting everyone else.’
  • ‘You’d be fine if you just did some exercise/went outside/ate better.’

These types of statements can result in the individual feeling uncared for, not listened, dismissed, and can damage relationships.

When to seek professional help

It is possible for symptoms of depression to go away on their own, but this can be very challenging and may take a long time. It is often better to manage depression symptoms with the help of professional treatment, which typically involves a combination of therapy and medication [1][7].

If you know someone who is currently experiencing depression, it may be helpful to support them in seeking professional help, so that they can receive appropriate treatment. It can be challenging to seek help, so you may wish to offer to attend an appointment with your loved one to provide support.

Effective treatment for clinical depression usually involves [1]:

  • Therapy: Different types of therapy are available to help in the treatment of depression. Therapycan be useful in discussing and managing emotional distress, learning skills to cope with challenging emotions and situations, improving communication and problem-solving, and understanding how to recognize and change negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications can be very helpful in the treatment of depression. Commonly prescribed antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline or fluoxetine, and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as duloxetine and venlafaxine.

If you think your loved one is at a high risk of severely harming themselves or others, it is important to contact a professional immediately to ensure their safety [2][5].

Resources
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2023). Depression. NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  2. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). How To Help Someone With Depression. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/advice-for-life-situations-and-events/how-to-help-someone-with-depression/
  3. Health Service Executive. (Reviewed 2022). What To Say To Someone Who Is Going Through A Tough Time.HSE. Retrieved from https://www2.hse.ie/mental-health/helping-someone-else/what-to-say/
  4. Samaritans. (n.d). How To Support Someone You’re Worried About. Samaritans Retrieved from https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/how-support-someone-youre-worried-about/what-do-if-you-think-someone-struggling/
  5. Mind. (2023). Depression – How Can Friends and Family Help?Mind. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/for-friends-and-family/
  6. NSW Government. (2020). How Can I Communicate With Someone Who Has Depression?NSW Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/psychosocial/strategies/Pages/communicating-depression.aspx
  7. Beyond Blue. (2022). How To Help Someone With Anxiety or Depression. Beyond Blue. Retrieved from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/support-someone/how-to-help-someone-with-anxiety-or-depression
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr serves as our talented writer, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and providing support to those in need.

Published: Jul 11th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Meet Morgan Blair, our accomplished medical reviewer. Morgan is a licensed therapist with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 11th 2023