How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Depression

When someone you love is struggling with depression, it can make you feel helpless. Nobody wants a loved one to feel sad and struggle, but it’s also hard to know what to say or do to help. In many times, even the best intentions can go unnoticed or, worse, make someone with depression feel even more depressed. Here are some ways you can help someone struggling with depression without overstepping your bounds.

  • Talk candidly. Whether you need to have a group therapy session or a one-to-one conversation, it’s important to talk to your loved one at a time when the depression isn’t so deep. You’ll want to ask questions about what an episode is like for that person and what might help in the future.
  • Always speak from personal experience. Rather than giving advice by saying, “Why don’t you try . . .” say, “In the past, it helped me when I . . .” By putting the emphasis on yourself, the conversation becomes less invasive and will help put the other person at ease. It is also easier to take advice when it’s not pushed on you.
  • Use distraction to your advantage. If you know something that makes a person happy, use it. Even if it’s completely ridiculous, if you can get a depressed person out of her head for even 15 minutes, it can be therapeutic. Any suggestions for activities are likely to be met with a response of, “I don’t feel like it,” so instead of asking, engage in a random act of kindness. Often, people who are depressed may feel underappreciated or undervalued and knowing that others are thinking about them can lift a depressed mood at least slightly.
  • Try to be patient. You may get a lot of short answers from trying to engage in conversation with someone who is depressed. Getting frustrated with this process won’t help either party. Take some time for yourself to settle down if you start to feel irritated with a situation. Understanding is what a depressed person needs more than anything.
  • Encourage your loved one to schedule an appointment for therapy. If you notice symptoms worsening or you’re not having luck bringing a person out of an episode, encourage him or her to contact her therapist. A professional will be able to better judge where a person is at mentally and whether to take further action. Sometimes talking with someone outside of family can be cathartic for an individual suffering from depression.
  • Offer to go on a walk or do something outside. Understand that the decision to get up and go outside may be difficult for someone who is depressed, but if you can entice him or her in some way to get outside, physical activity in the sun may have a positive impact on mood.

Most importantly, you should always remind a depressed individual that you care, unconditionally. It can sometimes be the most painfully isolating feeling to be depressed. Just knowing that someone out there cares enough to make an effort can help someone feel needed and loved.

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