Family and Friends

How to help family and friends with depression.
Acknowledge that depression is an illness. Depression can bring feelings of denial and shame in those who are suffering, so it’s important to realize that your loved one can’t just “snap out of it.” The first step is to realize that depression is a medical condition. In fact, more than half of this country still believes that depression is due to personal weakness as opposed to understanding that it’s an illness. Treat the illness, and they can fully recover and be like anyone else.

Realize that isolation is often a symptom of depression.
If you’ve noticed a friend or relative has stopped going out or communicating with others, this may be a sign of depression. Make yourself a regular presence in that person’s life. Part of the disease is not wanting to talk or go out and be with people.

Don’t let a loved one isolate him or herself. You may need to push them. Let them know that you understand that they may feel like they want to be alone, but don’t take no for an answer. Tell them that it would make you feel better to talk to them and go visit. Depressed people need connection. Don’t worry about being overbearing, they really need you to bring them back into having social connections. Face-to-face conversations are best, but phone calls work too. Be persistant, because the depressed person may not reach out.

Don’t distance yourself from a depressed loved one.
It can be hard to be around a loved one who is depressed, but try to stay present in that person’s life. It may feel like they are repeating the same story over and over again. Loved ones of depressed people are sometimes afraid that if they identify with that person, they will also get pulled into the darkness. You can talk to them without feeling what they feel. You can do a great service by reaching out. You don’t have to imagine what it feels like.

Your loved one may need you to be their advocate.

You are the one that probably knows your loved one best and spend the most time with them. They may only be seeing a mental health professional about an hour a week. If you see that they are getting worse with treatment, please work with them and the mental health professional to try to find some other solutions. Some medications work well for some people and they can make other people much worse. It may take 3 weeks or so for the medications to start to help, but if they are continuing to get worse after that point, please be proactive and get second and third opinions if needed.

Recognize your own limitations and feelings.
Helping someone who is depressed isn’t always easy, so don’t be afraid to accept your own feelings. You might feel angry with them because it seems like they aren’t trying. You can help but you can’t make someone get treatment.

Remind your depressed loved on of their good qualities

This was something that, in retrospect, was very helpful for me. I remember when I was talking to one of my best friends and work colleagues in the depths of my depression, and I asked her if she could remind me what I was good at, because I felt worthless. She said I was kind and nurturing and compassionate. She also said I was creative. I could not believe this, but kept trying to repeat it in my mind. I also asked my husband why he loved me and married me. He said that I was beautiful,funny, silly, and thought of interesting and different ways to view and approach life and that I had been a guide and compass in our marriage. While I didn’t completely believe my friend and my husband, these things did resonate somewhere deep inside and gave me some hope that I might go back to being that person that they described. Another thing that may help is to look at photos and videos of your loved one from times when they were happy. I did this and it made me cry, but it also gave me hope that if I was once a happy, fulfilled person, I could be again someday.