Watching a loved one struggle with depression can be painful. You may want to say or do something to help, but aren’t sure what’s best for them. While each person’s diagnosis and situation are unique, there are several ways to provide support to a friend or family member with depression.
Know the warning signs of depression
By recognizing the signs of depression, you can know when to encourage a loved one to get help. While these symptoms can be caused by other health conditions, they may be a sign of depression if a person experiences them every day for two weeks or more:
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Low energy
- Talking or moving slower than usual
- Unexplained aches, pains or digestive problems
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Trouble making decisions and concentrating
- Memory issues
- Thoughts or talk of suicide or death
- Suicide attempts
If your friend or relative has these symptoms, encourage them to talk to their primary care provider or a counselor.
How to show support to a loved one with depression
When someone has depression, they may say or do things that hurt, exasperate or frustrate you. Remind yourself that depression isn’t their fault and avoid words or actions that blame them. Whenever possible, try to be patient and understanding.
It can be helpful to ask questions about how they feel and listen to what they say. Avoid interrupting, brushing aside their feelings or judging them.
You can also show support by inviting them to fun activities, like going out to dinner, getting coffee, walking in the park or seeing a new movie.
When to encourage a loved one to get help for depression
If your family member or friend has symptoms of depression or has already been diagnosed, it’s crucial that they get proper medical care. Encourage them to see their primary care provider or a counselor. You could even offer to schedule their appointment and drive them to their visit.
If they take medications or have therapy appointments, remind them to stick to these routines.
If your loved one talks about death or suicide or tells you they have thoughts of death or suicide, take this seriously. Contact their physician or therapist immediately. If they’re in crisis and an immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911 or a national crisis hotline, such as:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741
How to take care of yourself when a loved one has depression
When a loved one has depression, the experience can be hard on you too. I encourage you to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. Here are some self-care practices that can help:
- Eat healthy meals centered around whole foods
- Exercise regularly
- Spend time in nature
- Sleep for seven to nine hours per night
- Talk to a counselor or join a support group
- Practice breathwork or meditation
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Make time for relationships and activities that lift your spirits
Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. When you feel healthy and strong, you have more love and compassion to share with others.
If you or a loved one has symptoms of depression, talk to your primary care provider. Find a provider near you.