More than 300 million people in the world are living with depression, according to the World Health Organization. Chances are you know someone who has struggled to cope with this often debilitating mental health condition. They might be a friend, co-worker, family member, even your significant other.
If you want to support them, the first step is ensuring they actually have the illness. A classic mistake is confusing normal sadness or grief with clinical depression. People need support in both situations, but helping someone with depression requires different methods.
How to Know They Have Depression
Here are some signs and symptoms that suggest the person you are concerned about actually suffers from a form of depressive disorder:
- Little interest in anything
- Feeling empty, numb, or hopeless
- Crying fits with no apparent cause
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Exhaustion, fatigue, and lack of energy that makes it difficult to do anything
- Slow thinking, speech, or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, remembering anything, making decisions
- Weight loss and reduced appetite, or the opposite: weight gain and cravings
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Health problems doctors are unable to explain
If the person displays at least a few of these signs, you can approach them with with your suspicion that they have clinical depression. They might not know yet, so do not raise the issue directly. Only a licensed mental health professional can provide a diagnosis.
It is also possible that someone afflicted with depression is aware that they may suffer from the disorder but has chosen not to disclose that information publically. You should respect that decision by providing support without pressuring the person to open up.
Remind Sufferers They are Loved and Worthy
Depression can make sufferers feel completely worthless, like those they care about would be happier without being burdened by them. Talkspace therapist Jor-El Caraballo said, “One of the things I hear most often from clients living with depression is that they feel like a burden or feel unworthy at times.”
Try to regularly remind the person you have in mind that you value them. Use kind and thoughtful gestures that will make them feel loved. Don’t only attempt to alleviate someone’s suffering in ways that would make you feel better if you were the one with depression. Think about what they have responded positively to in the past.
If you have trouble figuring out what to say, get started with these simple templates from Talkspace therapist Melissa Moreno:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “I care.”
- “You’re strong.”
- “You mean a lot to me.”
- “Depression is an illness. It’s not your fault”
- “You can get through this.”
To avoid reinforcing any beliefs they might have about being a burden, be patient and empathetic. If they do something that upsets you, try not to react in a way that would exacerbate the depression.
Be Careful When Suggesting Mental Health Care for Depression
Suggesting someone you are worried about consider working with a therapist is a great idea, but it is also a risky process that needs to be handled delicately. If you tell loved ones they “need” therapy or push them into appointments, they will most likely take offense.
“They already feel inadequate and deficient as a person, and won’t respond well to the idea that they are defective and in need of treatment,” said Talkspace therapist Samantha White.
Instead try framing mental health care as something they deserve for being a great person. Because you care, you are trying to help them live a happier life.
For more advice, read “How to Encourage Your Loved One to Start Therapy” by Talkspace Therapist Jor-El Caraballo. You can also consider our Talkspace gift card, but make sure you send it the right way.
Help Them Be Active
Depression has the power to sink people into a hole, making them slothful and inactive. This behavior can prevent recovery. To help the person in question improve their symptoms and regain energy, invite them to join you when going out or exercising. Some of the activities you engage in might become part of their routine as well. Maintaining social connections is also an important in the fight against depression.
Take Care of Yourself, Too
To effectively support someone, you need to first take care of yourself. Practice good mental health so you can withstand any stress that might accumulate while helping your loved one deal with depression.