10 Ways to Support a Family Member or Close Friend with Depression

Depression is a difficult to deal with when you have it yourself. But what is also really hard is seeing a close friend, loved one, or family member go through that pain. You might feel helpless. You might have a very strong desire to just take their pain away, even though you know that’s not possible. But there are other ways you can help or support a loved one when they have depression.

  1. Education

Try to read up on what depression entails. Educate yourself so you know what aspects are part of it.

image: Ellie Skrzat

  1. Asking questions (if they are okay with that)

Show them that you care and are there if they need someone to listen. The first time asking them about how they are feeling might be awkward, but at least you’re showing your good intentions. Let them know you care, but don’t push. Make them feel free to approach you without forcing them to open up when they don’t feel ready.

Some possible questions you could ask:

  • Since when have you been feeling this way?
  • Is there anything I could do to make you feel more comfortable?
  • What makes you feel worse?
  • What’s triggering for you?
  • Are you feeling pressured or stressed lately?
  1. Understanding that it’s not personal

Sometimes a person might be tempted to think that they’ve caused the depression or play some major part in causing it. It can also happen that they feel hurt or disappointed by the behavior of a depressed person, as if they are being blamed. Understand that while it might sometimes seem like it’s directly your “fault” at that moment, the underlying depression mechanism is definitely not personal. Nobody caused it per se, and nobody can take it away all of a sudden.

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  1. Suggest they make a list of their symptoms

Sometimes this can help to clear up what they’re experiencing.

  1. Understanding you can’t fix them

You can support them to the best of your abilities, but depression is not something that can just be ‘fixed’ suddenly. Be realistic about what you can do as part of a support system but don’t expect to be able to fix a person. As much as we would all like to, it’s not realistically possible.

  1. Remind them of their strengths

…even if they don’t believe them right now. This is not to say that you should constantly tell them how amazing they are (even though they are), because that could possibly feel like you’re inadvertently playing down their feelings, but just remind them of moments or things that happened in which you saw a personality strength.

  1. Listen, be there, don’t be overbearing

It goes without saying, but it can be hard. It can be tempting to want to give advice on how they should or shouldn’t tackle it, but when you are depressed, sometimes you just need people to listen first without giving any advice.

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  1. Help them learn what they need to know

image: Lily Padula

If they are opening up a bit, help them to find important information on their condition. It’ll help them understand what they’re going through and show them that you care as well.

  1. Encourage them to seek professional help if they can afford it, but don’t push

A friend of mine was depressed for a long time before she sought help. I offered her some suggestions and she took them to heart but didn’t reach out to those professional things, which is perfectly fine. Then one day she asked me about one of the suggestions again and got halfway through filling out an application form for an intake interview, but backed out before finishing it. Want to know what I told her? “That’s okay. It’s fine if it doesn’t feel right yet. I’ll help you fill out the form if you want to try again some time.” This a) doesn’t pressure them into doing something that goes against their feelings b) shows them it’s not now or never, but that they can try again and c) you’re there for them if they need any support.

  1. Encourage them to do stuff

…even if it’s just very small activities. One of the dangers in depression is that you are really unenergetic. This feeling makes you not want to go out and do anything, which in turn can worsen your depression because you’re not getting positive stimulation anymore. Encourage them to perhaps, come and watch a movie with you. Pick low effort things, but help them find a little bit of distraction.

These were 10 ways to support a loved one with depression. Are these helpful to you? Which ones will you be trying? Which other topics would you like to see on psych2go?

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US Suicide Hotline 1-800-784-2433
NDMDA Depression Hotline – Support Group 800-826-3632
Suicide Prevention Services Crisis Hotline 800-784-2433
Suicide Prevention Services Depression Hotline 630-482-9696
Child Abuse Hotline – Support & Information 800-422-4453

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