Depression is a debilitating mental health condition that can make it difficult to do even the most basic tasks every day. Someone with depression may find it overwhelming to just get out of bed in the morning.
If someone you know is living with depression, looking for ways to help them is a great way you can show your love and support. Where do you start? We’re offering 8 tips on how to help someone with depression so you can better support that person in your life and show you care.
1. Learn More About Depression
The more you understand depression, the better equipped you’ll be to help others deal with its symptoms. To learn how to help someone with severe depression, you can try:
- Watching authoritative videos and listening to podcasts about depression
- Reading well-respected magazines, journals, and books on the topic
- Spend more quality time with people who have depression
- Talking to a mental health professional to get tips on how you can help
- Exploring information offered by expert sources like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA)
2. Identify the Signs of Depression
Knowing how to help someone with depression starts with understanding the signs. Sometimes it can be difficult to spot depression in others, even if it’s someone you’re very close to. Everyone expresses depression uniquely, which can often make it challenging to see symptoms at first. It can also be difficult for people with depression to open up about their experiences or actually show their symptoms.
If you’re unsure if someone in your life is dealing with depression, there are several things you can watch for to get a better idea. Some warning signs to be aware of include:
- Speaking about death or suicide
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Having a hopeless or negative thought pattern
- No longer enjoying activities that previously brought joy
- Expressing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or shame
- Avoiding others, especially friends
- Change in eating habits (eating too much or not enough/or at all)
To make this condition even more confusing, there may not be any obvious outward signs of depression at times. However, if you still feel like something is off and you’re worried that your loved one might be depressed, ask them how they’re feeling right away. Even if they’re not depressed, they’ll likely be glad you care enough to check in. If they are depressed, talking about it can be a first step to getting better support and healing.
“Depression is much more than feeling sad or down, and while life might appear stable and intact, it’s important to remember that depression can look as individual as the person themself. When in doubt, inquire about a person’s wellbeing. It can very well offer an opportunity for support and set the stage for ongoing support.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
3. Take Their Depression Seriously
Depression is a serious but treatable mental health condition. It has a wide range of symptoms and severity. Mild depression symptoms can include:
- General depressed mood
- Crying/ Quick to Tears
All of these are common symptoms of depression that can last for weeks or longer. Major depression symptoms can be far more severe and long-lasting.
Even with the best intentions, you can’t simply “snap” somebody out of depression. Going out for a fun dinner and a movie will not cure their condition. Above all, don’t make light of the situation, because depression is serious. It won’t help — and can actually do great harm — to simply say something like, “Cheer up. Life isn’t that bad!”
4. Make Sure They Feel Heard & Supported
Understanding how to help someone dealing with depression in large part entails the simple act of just letting them know you care and support them. Keep the following in mind when you’re talking to someone who’s depressed:
- Express how important they are to you
- Listen without trying to solve problems
- Be patient
- Be fully present during your conversations
- Validate their feelings as legitimate
- Remain nonjudgmental
- Offer positive reinforcement
- Check in with them often
“We often fear that bringing up something delicate might make it worse, but simply asking how someone feels can be an invitation to opening up and feeling heard. From the start, knowing that someone is willing to listen feels better than feeling judged. Being an authentic presence can lend invaluable support rather than unthoughtful advice.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
5. Help Them with the Little Things
Depression can make even small things feel difficult to accomplish. You can make a big difference in someone’s day by offering help with those little things they may be struggling with, like taking out the trash, doing the dishes, picking up some groceries, getting an overdue bill paid, or even just letting the dog out. All of these routine tasks can be daunting for someone who’s depressed.
Even though they may not be able to express their gratitude in the moment, they’ll notice what you’re doing and they’ll appreciate it. Neither of you may realize it now, but what you’re really doing is honestly a lot more than just helping with common chores. You’re allowing someone the extra time they may desperately need to process their thoughts and navigate their condition.
6. Encourage Them to Seek Help for Depression
There are many opportunities for helping someone with depression. Your support will reinforce that depression is serious but treatable and that there is hope for a brighter future if they’re willing to do the work. When it comes to how to treat depression, you can encourage your loved one to seek help in the following ways:
Take a depression test
Online depression tests can give incredible insight into the symptoms of depression someone might be experiencing. A depression test can also help clarify the need for treatment. The test is fast, easy, and free.
Schedule talk therapy sessions
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is very effective for helping people with depression anticipate, recognize, and navigate symptoms. This depression treatment, whether it be in-person or online therapy, uses a variety of techniques that are designed to decrease the frequency, severity, and duration of depressive symptoms.
Explore depression resources
There are many well-regarded resources that can help someone understand and deal with depression. Take some time to explore these organizations and resources together.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIH)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Centers of Disease Control (CDC)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Michigan Medicine Gateway
Join a depression support group
Depression is very common and can affect anyone at any time. Most communities have at least one support group for people living with depression. It can be very helpful for someone who’s depressed to get out of the house and socialize with others, but it can also feel excruciatingly overwhelming to muster the energy.
Meeting with others who can relate and are struggling with similar symptoms can help. It’ll go a long way towards regaining a sense of normalcy and reaffirming that they’re not alone with their feelings and emotions.
Consider prescription medication
Short-term use of certain prescription depression medications might be beneficial for someone living with depression. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines, when used appropriately, can all be effective treatment. Keep in mind, medication works best when used in conjunction with therapy for depression. The success also greatly depends on each person’s unique symptoms and medical history.
7. Understand the Warning Signs of Suicide
When you’re learning how to help someone with severe depression, it’s important to understand that being ready and willing to help might end up meaning you need to take action in an emergency. Severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and the desire to end the suffering. If you’re concerned that your loved one might attempt suicide, you should take immediate action.
“It can feel helpless when the gravity of depression takes hold while an unrelenting low mood prevents access to someone you care about. If you can identify or acknowledge feelings of hopelessness, intent or access to means for suicide, and an expression of feeling like a burden to others, speak up. Tell your loved one you care, ask them directly if they are feeling suicidal, keep them safe, and connect them to support. Planning for safety can change the clinical course for the better and can present a much needed opportunity for healing.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
If you believe your loved one may be suicidal, call 911. It can be a difficult decision, especially if they’re resistant to the idea. If their behavior suggests they may be a danger to themself, or if you’re afraid to leave them alone, then it’s best to err on the side of caution. Even if your loved one expresses resentment in the moment, hopefully later your intentions will be understood and even appreciated.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is available every day of the year, 24 hours a day. It’s a treatment referral service and resource center for depression and other mental health conditions. Assistance is available in English and Spanish.
8. Take Time for Yourself Too
It’s essential that you don’t get lost in the process when you’re helping someone with depression. Navigating a relationship with a depressed family member, friend, or partner will be challenging. You have to take care of yourself if you want to help others. It’s even more important to keep this in mind if you also live with symptoms of depression.
Even if you’re not experiencing depression, you can’t sacrifice your own mental health to take care of someone else, no matter how much you love them. Trying to figure out how to help someone dealing with depression can be taxing; if you need help yourself, take the time to get it.
“Help exists not solely for those who are suffering, but also for those who endure depression vicariously. It can be hard to travel alongside anyone who’s coping with clinical depression, making it just as important to get your own support as a caretaker. Normalizing the expression of hardship and the burden of emotional challenges can free up the mental space needed to be present for your loved one who’s deeply hurting. Connect with a therapist or another professional to get the support you need.”Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW
Keep grounded and realize that treatment options are available for depression. Learning how to help someone with depression is a choice you make with love. Let that love flow with patience, honesty, and an effective action plan that encourages and supports your loved one’s recovery.