When a friend or someone you love is experiencing depression, it can be difficult to know how to help them in a constructive way.
Sometimes we worry about what we should or shouldn’t say, out of fear we may exacerbate the way they are already feeling.
Sometimes the line of “when to push” can be blurry, and it can be hard to know if what we are doing is supporting or enabling our loved one.
Feelings of helplessness, frustration, anger, guilt, fear and sadness are all normal. Particularly at times where you neglect your own health, it can become overwhelming.
However, your support can be critical to your loved one’s recovery.
Does your Loved One have Depression?
Here are some signs to help you spot depression in a loved one:
- Feeling of sadness, teariness or hopelessness;
- Loss of pleasure in otherwise enjoyable activities;
- Lack of appetite;
- Poor motivation;
- Low energy levels;
- Insomnia or hypersomnia;
- Weight changes;
- Trouble thinking and making decisions;
- Anger outbursts or irritability;
- Social withdrawal;
- Frequent or recurrent mention of death, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts;
- Self harm.
Common Warnings of Suicide or Suicidal Thoughts
Be prepared that if a loved one is depressed, there may be a time where they feel suicidal as people with depression are at increased risk. Stay alert for warnings of suicide, such as:
- Talking about death or suicide;
- Engaging in unusually risky behaviours;
- Gaining the means to attempt suicide such as stockpiling pills;
- Feelings of intense hopelessness;
- Giving away belongings;
- Getting affairs in order when there’s no logical reason to do so;
- Saying goodbye to people;
- Developing personality changes.
Wondering how to Help?
Here are just a few ways that you can help a loved one with depression:
Talk to them and listen to them – Let them know you are there for them. Let them know you’ve noticed a change and that you are concerned; ask them questions to get a deeper understanding of what is happening for them.
To start a conversation you could say, “I have been concerned about you lately”, “I wanted to check in to see how you’re feeling because I’ve noticed some changes”.
Once conversation has started, you could say, “you’re not alone – I’m here for you”, “what can I do to help you?” “You’re important to me”, or “I know its hard to believe right now, but the way you’re feeling is temporary”.
Sometimes they may just want to talk, and aren’t looking for advice.
Encourage treatment – Explain that depression is a medical condition and usually gets better with treatment.
Suggest seeking help from a professional – Offer to support the person to appointments, or write a list of questions to be provided to health care professionals
Give positive reinforcement – Those with depression are prone to judge themselves harshly and internalize all fault. Remind them of their positive qualities and how important they are to you, friends and family.
Make plans together – Ask your loved one to do things with you, like going to see a movie, or engage in an activity they used to previously enjoy. Be mindful not to force the person.
Be patient – Depression usually improves with treatment, but recovery has no clear timeline. It may take a few medications and therapeutic approaches before they find one that helps with their symptoms. Even once remitted, symptoms might arise from time to time.
Stay in contact – Those with depression tend to avoid reaching out and will often withdraw from their social supports. Check in regularly, even if you are unable to spend a lot of time with them and just remind them that you care about them. Your supportive presence could make a world of difference.
Know that depression can take different forms – Sometimes depression can present as anger and irritability, or confusion and memory problems, excessive fatigue or physical symptoms such as muscle pain, frequent headaches and stomach sickness.
And finally – take care of yourself. If you put all of your resources into helping a loved one and don’t take time for yourself, you will be left feeling drained and burnt out, both of which are no help to you or your loved one.
Practice self-care, know your limits and take time to recharge. Setting boundaries can help. For example, you might let your loved one know you won’t be available to speak until you get home. In the meantime, make contingency plans for who they could contact in this time until you are available, such as Lifeline.
Author: Tara Pisano, BA (Psych) (Hons), M Psych.
Tara Pisano is a Brisbane psychologist with a special interest in early intervention in adolescents and young adults, as this is when three quarters of mental health conditions emerge. In her practice, she draws on a range of evidence-based therapies such as CBT, DBT, IPT, ACT and Motivational Interviewing, to promote recovery and positive outcomes.
To make an appointment with Tara Pisano, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Major Depression. (2019). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.
- Raypole, C. (2019). How to help a depressed friend. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-a-depressed-friend.
- Schimelpfening, N. (2020). How to help someone with depression. Very well mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-help-someone-with-depression-1065117.
- Smith, M., Robinson, L., Segal, J. (2020). Helping someone with depression. HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-someone-with-depression.htm#