One in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health issue. If someone you know is depressed, you might not know what to do or say. You may be afraid that doing or saying the wrong thing could make the situation worse. It may seem like all you can do is worry.
Don’t let fear keep you from acting. It is a difficult situation, but not saying or doing anything doesn’t help your loved one. So learn the best ways to help and keep the lines of communication open. And keep in mind that depression is a medical illness, and healing takes treatment and time like any other illness.
Where to Start
Does your friend or family member have depression? If they haven’t been diagnosed, it may be hard to know. But you can look for signs. They may:
- Be angry
- Lose interest in normal activities
- Have trouble sleeping or sleep too much
- Lack energy
- Eat too much or too little
- Seem nervous or restless
- Show feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Have trouble thinking or making choices
You can start the conversation by saying you are worried that you see signs of depression. Say it’s a treatable health condition. Ask them to see a medical professional. You can even offer to help them find a doctor, help make the appointment or go with them as a sign of support.
Families for Depression Awareness says it’s important to:
- Show you care
- Let them know in a caring way that their illness affects others
- Learn about depression
- Reach out to help them get care. That can include family members, friends, teachers, clergy or others in their community who they trust and may listen to. You can also ask your doctor, therapist or other health care professionals for advice on how you can help.
- Seek immediate help if they talk about death or suicide. That can mean calling a doctor, 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
There are many ways to show support. Staying connected is essential. Other suggestions:
- Keep listening. Don’t dismiss someone’s concerns or say you know what they are going through if you don’t. Listening is always a good choice.
- Support activities to keep them connected to family and friends. Isolation can make things worse.
- Don’t push too hard. People with depression can feel overwhelmed, so forcing the issue may not help.
Take Care of Yourself
Your loved one’s depression can wear you down if you neglect your own needs. It’s normal to feel helpless, upset, angry, scared, guilty or sad. Don’t think of taking care of yourself as selfish. It’s necessary. It will allow you to keep on giving support for others.
- You can’t fix someone else’s depression.
- Hiding from it won’t make it go away.
- The symptoms you are seeing don’t mean that your loved one doesn’t care about you.
- Depression is a serious illness. People can’t just “snap out of it.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says loneliness, shame and blame often go along with mental illness. That can make it hard for someone to reach out for help. NAMI launched a campaign called CureStigma to raise awareness.Stigma, making people feel ashamed for something that is out of their control, is dangerous, says Mary Giliberti of NAMI. It can make people avoid seeking help for their illness. Compassion and understanding, talking openly about the illness and working to end fear and shame, can improve the chance of someone getting the help they need to get better.
Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Don’t let being afraid of doing the wrong thing keep you from doing anything to help. Start by expressing concern and making sure they know you’re there for them. Your compassion, understanding and support can go a long way toward helping your loved one get the help they need to treat their depression.
Sources: Depression: Supporting a family member or friend, Mayo Clinic, 2018; Helping Someone Receive Treatment, Families for Depression Awareness; Depression: Offering Support, WebMD, 2018; Helping Someone with Depression, HelpGuide.org, 2018; StigmaFree, National Alliance on Mental Illness; Talk to Someone Now, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline