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Helping a Loved One Cope with Depression

coping with depression
Image credit: Engin Akyurt

Navigating depression isn’t a journey one should take alone. Whether you’re seeking
understanding or looking to support a loved one, we’ve got some tips to help.

1. Learn as much as you can about depression

One of the most important things you can do to support a friend or family member with
depression is to learn more about the mental disorder. Depression is common, and it’s
often characterized by sadness. However, there are many additional symptoms too.
Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Intense sadness
  • Eating changes (eating more or less)
  • Sleeping changes (sleeping more or less)
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Pain
  • Difficulty focusing on work or school
  • Loss of interest in favorite hobbies
  • Thoughts (or talk) about suicide and/or death

One of the most important things to remember is that depression symptoms can vary
from person to person. Regardless of which symptoms your loved one experiences,
they are usually severe enough to cause noticeable interferences with daily activities.
This includes school, work, personal relationships, and social engagements. If you
suspect depression in your child, you might notice that he or she feels generally
unhappy, irritable, or even cranky. Remember, at any age, sadness isn’t the only
symptom.

2. Encourage treatment

It’s not always easy to speak up and ask for help. Some people might feel embarrassed
and some might feel like it’s a sign of weakness if they can’t overcome depression on
their own. You can support a loved one by gently encouraging treatment. Here are a few
examples:

  • Remind them asking for help is a sign of strength
  • Offer to help by setting up appointments, attending any appointments with them (if
    they want), driving them to or from appointments, or attending family therapy
  • Express a willingness to help by helping them prepare a list of any questions they
    have about depression itself or treatment options

You can also remind them depression is common and treatable.

3. Learn what to say (and what not to say)

Further support your loved ones by learning what to say and what not to say. For
example, telling someone to “snap out of it” might come from a well-meaning place, but
it doesn’t provide solid guidance. Other phrases to avoid include:

  • You don’t look that sad
  • It could be worse
  • It can’t be that bad
  • You don’t look depressed

Instead, try these phrases:

  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to support you?
  • I’m here to listen if you’d like to talk.
  • Can I make a meal for you?
  • How are you managing?
  • I may not know how you feel, but I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
  • You’re important to me.
  • This sounds hard. What can I do to help you today?

You may find that the most helpful thing you can do is simply listen to your loved one
and be present in the moment.

4. Create a low-stress schedule or routine

Routines can be particularly helpful for those with mental disorders, and that includes
depression. Research shows that routines (especially bedtime routines) may help a
loved one with depression feel more in control. You can help create a low-stress
schedule and routine by offering to make a schedule for meals (and even help make
some meals). You can also create a schedule or reminder list for medication, physical
activity, and bedtime.

5. Continue to make plans together

Continue to make plans with your loved ones and invite them to participate. Because
depression can cause a loss of interest, your loved one might decline the invite. Don’t
try to force them to join you, but let them know the offer still stands if they change their
mind. Examples of outings to suggest include a walk around the block, going to the
movies, working on one of their favorite hobbies, or going to get a coffee together.

6. Know the warning signs of suicide

Warning signs of suicide include talking about suicide and death, increased withdrawal,
giving away personal belongings, saying “goodbyes” to friends and family, acting
reckless, increased substance abuse, anxiety, and irritability.

LifeSkills has a 24-Hour Crisis Line available at 800.223.8913. You can also call or
text 988 at any time

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