Helping Someone With Depression
Published on July 11th, 2022
When a person is chronically depressed, the depression feels like a part of them. It is a weight that they must carry every day. Depression is a constant burden for an affected person to manage. It causes many uncomfortable feelings and upsetting thoughts. These thoughts and feelings can have a major impact on a person’s emotions, behavior, and overall self-image.
Depression causes many different symptoms, like:
- Insomnia and sleep issues
- Lack of interest in things you would normally enjoy
- Mood swings and irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Binge eating
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair
- Poor or inconsistent hygiene
- Isolation and withdrawal from family and friends
People who have loved ones with depression in their lives face their own challenges. They may struggle with feelings of frustration with their loved one or not understand why they have mood swings. They may have thoughts, like “why can’t they just snap out of it?” or “What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I make them happy?”
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If you have a loved one who is depressed, there are several things you need to understand. This article will outline important points a person must know when supporting a loved one who is depressed.
1. Depression is much more than feeling low, down, sad, or blue for a few days.
Depression is a chronic condition. A person who is depressed will suffer from oppressive symptoms that are mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.
Depression can affect a person for months or even years, even with proper treatment. The severity of the condition will change. Some days will be harder than others for both you and your loved one.
2. Depression can make you angry.
When a person is depressed, that depression affects every area of their life. Depression can manifest in different ways. It can cause feelings like irritability, anger, and rage. These feelings can be hard to control.
3. Depression can come in waves.
People with depression will have some good days. Just because a person has one good day does not mean they are cured or the depression has gone away. Similarly, bad days do not mean that the affected person is not trying to recover, or that they are hopeless to recover.
Depression is a constant condition. It takes time and energy to learn how to manage symptoms. Some days will be harder than others, but this pattern does not mean the affected person is helpless, or that the relationship is hopeless.
4. You cannot just “get over” depression.
Depression is not a state of mind. It is a disorder that affects the mind and body. Depression is not something that can be turned on and off, and it is not something that people can just get over or put away on command.
Your loved one may know that you are frustrated, and they are frustrated, too. If you are feeling this way, consider consulting with a mental health professional for individual and/or family therapy. That way, you can create a plan for supporting each other together.
5. You must be patient when supporting a loved one with depression.
It is important to not internalize their depressed mood and have it reflect on your self-worth. Their depression is not reflective of your ability to support your loved one.
To prevent burnout while supporting a loved one who is depressed, reflect on what you need. Set and stick to boundaries and remember to take care of yourself as well.
6. Enabling a depressed partner is not helpful.
Of course, you want to help your loved one, but at the same time, it can be detrimental to fall into a pattern of enabling. While well-intended, being too accommodating, having a passive approach to upsetting behavior, or catering to your loved one’s depression may make their condition worse.
To prevent enabling, set specific expectations and boundaries for you and your loved one. Understand what each of you expects and needs from each other, and remember to be mindful of your own mental health and wellness in the process. It can be helpful to work with a mental health professional when creating these boundaries and expectations.
7. A strong support network is very helpful when managing depression.
The responsibility for supporting a loved one with depression should not only fall on you. Being your loved one’s only source of support can be too much for you to handle, and too limiting for them to cope in the way they need to cope.
People with depression are best able to cope with their symptoms when they have a strong support network. Such people have family, friends, and mental health professionals who all provide the support, guidance, and motivation needed to keep them going.
Building a strong support network of family, friends, and peers is helpful because it takes all the pressure off of you, and helps your loved one take initiative in supporting their own mental health and wellness.
8. You both can benefit from counseling.
There are limitations to the support you can provide. Sacrificing your own mental health and wellness could negatively affect you and your loved one. If you feel your loved one needs more support than what they have, it is okay to express your concerns and propose consulting with a mental health counselor.
It could be helpful for you to seek your own counseling as well. Counseling can help you understand depression, how to support your loved one, and how you can keep yourself well. It can also be a safe space to process how you are affected by your loved one’s depression and learn methods of keeping yourself healthy.
9. Let go of cheering up your loved one.
When we see a friend or family member suffer, a well-intended response can include finding “happy” distractions for them with hopes of optimism rubbing off.
One of the clinical criteria for depression is a decreased or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. As difficult as it is, a depressed person is not open to or even capable of being “cheered up” by something that once made them tick.
Example: In the same way that you wouldn’t force an injured track runner into the 400-meter dash after injury, do not force a depressed person into a hobby or interest that once inspired them. It’s like salt in the wound. It’s not the kind of help they need.
10. Movement can help.
A common characteristic of depression includes sedentary behaviors. Sometimes, this means an inability to complete common activities of daily living. A supporter may try to encourage movement. This can be physical exercise if your loved one is willing (i.e. simple stretches, short walks down the street, or to the mailbox).
For a depressed person, simply getting out of bed is a tremendous accomplishment! You can encourage completing small, simple tasks.
Example: “You think you have it in you to do one more load of laundry? I don’t think it will take long. Here, I’ll do it with you.”
11. Get comfortable with silence.
It is common for a depressed person to have periods of being quiet and withdrawn. The non-judgmental presence of a caring person is worth a million conversations. Find comfort in the quiet, stay available, and offer space. Attempts to strike up conversations and asking too many questions can overwhelm a depressed person.
12. Tap into your more gracious self.
It’s been said before that relationships are rarely 50%/50%. On some days, you might give 80% to your loved one because they are only capable of giving 20%. On other days, they might give 70% because 30% is all you have to offer. Keep this in mind when you come alongside your depressed loved one. Sometimes, they just aren’t capable of giving much. You may have to step up and take care of more than you’d like.
Be in tune with your own emotions. If you sense in yourself resentment and bitterness, take some space and time for yourself, or talk about how you feel with your loved one if they are in a mental space to be receptive to your feelings and needs. When in doubt, find a professional with whom you can share your experiences. Your personal boundaries are important, make them a priority.
13. Be observant.
Quite simply, depression is serious stuff. If it seems your loved one has taken a turn for the worst and is making statements like, “You would be better off without me” or “I wish I wasn’t here” seek emergency services or mental health care. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide should never be taken lightly.
What To Say To Someone Who Is Depressed
Having someone in your life who is depressed can be intimidating at times. You want to say the right thing but it is not easy to know what to say to help the person in front of you feel better. It is hard to know what to say to a person who is depressed, but one important thing to know is that it is not your responsibility to make a depressed person feel better. Trying to make a depressed person feel better often does more harm than good.
Making a depressed person feel better is often not helpful, but what is? Helping a depressed person feel heard, understood, and supported can be much more meaningful than trying to help them not feel depressed anymore.
The validation that comes from showing unconditional support means much more to a depressed person than being told to not feel what they are feeling. There are things that you can say when a person is depressed. Check out the list below for tips on what to say to a person who is suffering from depression.
What do you need from me?
Even if the depressed person does not know the answer, being asked can make a huge difference in how supported they feel. Being asked this question gives the depressed person a sense of authority in how they are supported, and helps them to feel like you are invested in their care and recovery.
I care about you and your mental health.
Simply hearing “I care” makes a huge difference in a depressed person’s sense of hope and self-worth. That boost can be enough to motivate them to continue to try to manage their depression.
I am concerned about you, have you spoken to a mental health professional about how you are feeling?
It is important to gently encourage a depressed person to seek guidance from a mental health professional. Depression is a mental health condition that should be taken seriously and requires professional attention and treatment to ensure your loved one’s safety.
It is okay to not be okay right now.
Being given permission to not be okay means a lot to a depressed person. It gives them permission to feel what they are feeling without seeing themselves as hopeless, helpless, or a burden. It also takes away the pressure of needing to act okay. It is a validating statement that expresses understanding about how they are feeling.
I am here for you if you want to talk or need company.
Availability goes a long way for a depressed person. Knowing they have someone to turn to helps them to feel supported (even if they decide to not talk about how they are feeling or do not seek out your company right away).
You are important to me.
Hearing that your loved one is important to you can be enough motivation to prevent them from engaging in risky or self-harming behaviors. Knowing that they matter to their loved ones gives a depressed person hope and purpose, which can help them feel like their efforts to manage their depression matter.
What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Depressed
You are not expected to know the perfect thing to say to a person who is feeling depressed. There is not a specific thing a person needs or expects to hear when they are feeling depressed.
There are, however, things that a depressed person definitely does not want nor need to hear when they are struggling with a depressed mood. Review the list below to learn what not to say to a person who is depressed:
Look at the bright side.
People who are depressed struggle to see or accept the bright side. Even if they do see the bright side, it may not make up for the dark thoughts that are contributing to their depressed mood. Looking at the bright side suggests the dark side can simply be ignored to solve the problem, but managing a depressed mood is not that simple.
Focus on the good things in your life.
A depressed person may still appreciate the good things in their life, but those good things do not make up for or fix the bad feelings that come with a depressed mood. Focusing on the positive is not helpful for someone who is depressed.
Have you tried…
While well-intended, offering solutions or methods of feeling better is not the best way to express support for a person who is depressed. People who are experiencing a depressed mood may not be ready to feel better, and that is okay. Pushing someone to feel better before they are ready can cause them to withdraw from you and their other loved ones.
This is all in your head.
A depressed mood happens because of circumstances that are not always easy to understand. Depression is very real for a depressed person. They are not imagining or exaggerating how they are feeling, so it is not so easily summarized to say it is ‘all in your head.’
There is more to depression than mindset. Genetics, circumstances, stress, environment, support network, and chemical makeup all contribute to how a person experiences a depressed mood.
You are choosing to stay depressed.
Depression is not a choice and it is not a mindset. It is a clinical disorder and to experience it is overwhelming. A person cannot decide to turn depression off, so hearing such words can feel very dismissive and uncaring.
There are people out there who have it much worse.
People having it worse than the depressed person does not mean that they are not entitled to their suffering. A depressed person is not being dramatic or inconsiderate. Their feelings are real and powerful. To hear that people have it worse may imply that the depressed person is hopeless or not worthy of support, care, and the attention they need to feel better.