7 ways to support a loved one with depression

Depression isn’t just being sad or down for a few days – it’s much bigger and more persistent than that. It can impact not only the way someone feels, but how they think and act. If you know someone struggling with depression, it can be painful to watch and your first instinct may be to jump in with advice.

Here are 7 things to do instead:

  1. Educate yourself. Do a little research on what depression is and what your loved one may be going through. Common experiences include feeling hopeless or worthless; losing interest in things one normally enjoys; low energy or fatigue; withdrawing from friends and family; and not being able to pay attention or make decisions.
  2. Don’t make assumptions. People experience depression in their own ways. Avoid comparing or thinking what they’re going through is similar to someone else. And remember that what eases symptoms for one person might not be what helps the person you love.
  3. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Instead, be a compassionate listener. Use phrases like, “I’m here for you” or “Is there something I can do?” Don’t try to fix – as hard as that might be. Just be there for them.
  4. Watch your words. Be careful not to shame the person or minimize what they’re going through as it could be more damaging. Avoid making comments like, “People have it worse than you”,  “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”, “Think positively” or “Why can’t you just snap out of it?” Validate their feelings by saying, “That must be really hard” or, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
  5. Help in small ways. Those suffering from symptoms of depression may have difficulty managing everyday activities like running errands or cleaning the house. Don’t wait for an invitation to step in either, show up and say, “I’m here to X.” Sometimes, it’s really hard for people to ask for support because they’re embarrassed, ashamed, or simply can’t muster up the strength.
  6. Encourage them to seek professional help. Let your loved one know they don’t have to suffer on their own. The first step could be talking to their family doctor or a mental health provider, such as a counsellor. Offer to go along with them and to help prepare a list of questions to ask in their initial appointment.
  7. Reach out. Check in with the person regularly and watch for signs that may indicate they’re thinking of suicide. Often people who are suicidal will try to tell us they need help with behaviours, actions or comments that seem out of character. In counselling, we call these invitations. They can include:
  • joking about suicide or dying
  • making preparations for death (like giving away possessions)
  • poor hygiene
  • sleeping too much
  • lack of interest, low energy
  • insomnia
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • uncharacteristic high-risk activity or impulsive behaviour
  • isolation, withdrawal from people or activities
  • expressions of hopelessness, helplessness, purposelessness
  • extreme anxiety, mood swings, outbursts of rage, grief or violence

If you suspect someone may be suicidal, don’t wait to take action – call 911 immediately.
Remember to take care of yourself too. Your mental health is just as important.
Want more strategies to support someone you love? Book an appointment with Jennifer.