How to Help Someone Who’s Depressed

May 11, 2018
a woman sitting on the floor in a dark room with her hands on her head
When someone you care about is depressed, it’s not just their problem. Because you care about them and would do almost anything to help them, it’s also yours. To help someone who’s depressed, you need empathy, understanding, and good information. Here’s what you need to know—and what you need to find out.

Know the Signs

People with depression quite often don’t even know they’re depressed. When you know the signs, you may be able to help them before their symptoms get out of hand.

Here are some signs to watch out for in your friend or family member:

Understanding Depression

Depression is not the same as being sad, disappointed, or lonely, though depression may sometimes seem to take the form of these feelings. By understanding what depression is and isn’t, you’ll be better able to help your loved one deal with it.

Know How to React

With all of that negative thought they’re dealing with, depressed people can be difficult to listen to, and even harder to talk to. (Again, don’t accept abuse, and don’t take on more than you can handle.) When it comes to interactions with a depressed person, know that compassionate listening probably will be more effective than advice. But if you’re listening, you’ll want to respond. Here are some things that can be helpful to say (and a few things to avoid):

It can be helpful to say:

Avoid saying:

Get Help

Unless you’re a trained therapist, you don’t have access to all the knowledge, expertise, and techniques that may help a depressed person. (And if you are, you shouldn’t treat someone you’re so close to.) While it’s helpful to be a supportive friend or relative, depressed people most often need professional help to recover.

Depressed people are also, quite often, resistant to getting help. (It’s another aspect of the negative thought process.) If they won’t take the step on their own, you may be able to encourage them.

Watch for Warning Signs of Suicide

No one wants to believe their loved one might commit suicide, but for a depressed person, it’s at least a possibility. Be alert to the following signals, and call for help if you see them.

Take Care of Yourself

As with any illness, depression takes a toll on those who care for a depressed person. And you won’t help anyone by letting yourself get run down physically or emotionally. Eat well, and get enough sleep, exercise, and outdoor time. Make time to do the things you enjoy. Speak up for yourself, set clear boundaries (when you are and are not available to help), keep up with the important things in your life, and be attuned to whether you might need to get professional help with your own emotional needs.

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