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How to Help a Depressed Person

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions..

According to What to Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed, Mitch Golant, we may feel emotions such as anger or withdrawal, or go into denial.

Reaching out to friends or loved ones who are depressed can be challenging and exhausting. They will not respond to our phone calls, clam up when we ask them what is wrong, and refuse to attend social events. They seem to be surrounded by clouds of sadness no matter how much sunshine we try to bring into their lives.

People who are depressed may not recognize their state of despair and think that their feelings are normal. Others may be in denial about their condition. Feelings of shame and guilt because of their depression could also keep them from admitting their problems and seeking help. They may mistakenly feel that they can overcome their feelings by willpower alone. In actuality, people rarely get better without receiving treatment, and their depression may become worse.

Depressed people tend to feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering, but this condition is more common than we may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 9 percent of American adults experience the emotions that lead to depression, and about 3 percent experience major depression.

Recognizing The Signs

The Mayo Clinic says that depression affects each individual differently. We look for some common signs such as:

  • Seeming sad and down
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Are restless or easily irritated
  • Are sleeping too much or too little, feel tired, and lack energy
  • Have changes in appetite and dramatic weight fluctuations
  • Are struggling to concentrate or make decisions
  • Are plagued with guilt and shame
  • Think and talk about suicide
  • Are abusing drugs or alcohol

How We Can Help Depressed People

Realize Our Limitations

When we see a loved one or friend down in the depths of depression, we long to rescue them. We want to find the right words or shake them until we think they have come to their senses. The truth is that there are no magic words that make their cloud of smoke go poof and zap them out of it. No amount of scolding, manipulating, or shock tactics will change them.

Instead, we need to approach them gently and tell them what we have observed. What we say should express our love and concern for their welfare in a non-judgmental way. They may express thoughts that seem strange or nonsensical to us but are real for them. We can assure them that depression is a treatable medical condition and not a flaw in their character.

According to the book Talking to Depression by Claudia Strauss, there are several simple ways we can connect with them.

Accept That They May Be in Denial

The best-case scenario is that they accept that they are depressed and seek help from medical professionals such as doctors or psychiatrists. Some people, though, will be reluctant to admit that they have a problem and go into denial. People who are depressed do not want to stay in that negative frame of mind. Human beings naturally want to feel happy and content with life.

Before they can come out of a state of despair, they need to decide for themselves that they want to do it. There is no point in us losing patience and become frustrated with them. People experiencing depression must decide to take the steps to healing on their own.

Watch for Signs of Suicide Risk

In cases of severe depression, we should ask depressed people if they have been having suicidal thoughts. If the answer is yes, we should encourage them to seek professional help immediately.

Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness and saying that they are going to kill themselves
  • Obsessing about death or violence
  • Collecting pills, buying a gun, or other means to kill themselves
  • Isolating themselves
  • Having extreme high to low mood swings
  • Risky self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse
  • Expressing that there is no hope of change for their lives and that they are trapped
  • Having disrupted eating and sleeping routines
  • Demonstrating dramatic personality changes

We can do some things to help, but we must approach a person as a unique individual with specific needs. When they tell us we need to back off, we need to respect that until they show signs that their door is open again to discuss the topic.

Encourage Them to Seek Treatment

People who are depressed are overwhelmed by their negative feelings. They create a state of inertia and isolation. They long to pull themselves out of their despair but may not know how. Before they can seek help, however, they must be able to face and acknowledge their condition. Sometimes, a friend or loved one is the first to raise the alarm about their depression. Other times, they may come to the realization themselves.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

It is tough to keep reaching out to someone who does not respond, especially friends who will not open their doors or answer their phones. All we can do is to assure them that we are there for them when they are ready to talk or they need physical assistance. We can keep in touch with friends via email, text, leaving a phone message, or passing on a message through a family member.

Anticipate That They May Relapse

There is a 50 percent chance that a person in remission will experience a relapse, and the risk increases with each relapse. Several triggers can be managed with help from medical or psychological professionals and our support. Events or circumstances such as the anniversary of the death of a loved one may trigger depression.

Sometimes depressed people stop taking their medication or are not taking it correctly. Some may be discouraged by side effects and need to talk to their doctor about changing their medication. Depressed people may react to the relapse with self-blame, guilt, shame, and a sense of failure. Our support and professional help is critical to their recovery.

Provide Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement such as reminding them that they are loved and have positive characteristics will help them stick to their treatment plan. Depressed people are often hard on themselves and find fault with the things they do.

Continue to Offer Support

Once a person is willing to seek treatment, they need to know that we are willing to assist them. They also need more practical assistance, such as being driven to a doctor’s appointment or having someone pick up their prescriptions. If a depressed person lives with us, we can monitor their care and ensure they take their medication. Depressed people can also benefit from support groups with the same condition.

Depressed people may be overwhelmed by depression and let go of housekeeping and eating properly. We can help by cooking or bringing over meals, or offering to clean. We can also invite them out for coffee or an activity that they will enjoy. They may not say yes at first but will come around with time. If the person is a family member, we can help by providing routines such as specific mealtimes and bedtimes to ensure restful sleep.
Source

Take Care of Ourselves

In the book How You Can Survive When They're Depressed, Author Mike Wallace says: "Depression fallout is our unbidden response to someone else's despair.
Supporting someone who is depressed is upsetting and emotionally draining. There are some steps that we can take to care of ourselves during this journey:

  • Learn everything we can about depression to prepare ourselves for whatever comes
  • Be patient with the person; change takes time
  • Try not to be upset with the person and avoid giving in to extreme frustration or anger
  • Take care of your physical and emotional needs to avoid burnout
  • Ask friends or family members to help

Supporting depressed people has many challenges, but we can help them with our love and support.

References:

Depression: Supporting a family member or friend, Mayo Clinic
Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
How to Help a Depressed Friend, Healthline
Being a Caregiver for Someone Who is Depressed, Psycom
How can you help a loved one with depression? Medical News Today


Comments

Sheila A Myers from Elmira on September 04, 2019:

This is a very informative article and will help a lot of people! I suffer from bipolar and I am stuck in a bad bout of depression right now. I can't seem to find the right medication, and Counseling doesn't seem to be working. I just don't know where to go from here and I feel so helpless. I'm raising three boys by myself and being depressed all the time is putting a huge damper on thanks books provide what they need and take care of them properly. Thank God I had help from my parents right now oh, but they can't help me forever. Anyway thank you for writing this, I'm going to follow you. Feel free to follow me back :-)

vibesites from United States on December 20, 2013:

Very nice and helpful article. It's better when the person who helps a depressed person was once depressed himself/herself but successfully overcame it.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 19, 2013:

Very good article. Glad you included that section on taking care of ourselves. We may be not very far away from becoming a victim. Thanks and Voted Up!

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 11, 2013:

Done. Thanks for your comment.

Jennifer Suchey on June 11, 2013:

Nice article. You might want to correct the word "is" to "are" in the very first sentence where you refer to "people who is depressed". ;)

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