Hannah is the Lead Writer for SADA and a passionate advocate for those living with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Through research, storytelling and understanding, she hopes to expand the awareness and knowledge of SAD, and provide support to those in need.

Helping Someone With Depression

Depression is a debilitating mental health condition that not only affects your mental state but can impact your health, functioning, and relationships. If you suspect your loved one is struggling with depression, it is only natural to want to help them and encourage them to seek treatment. But how do you help someone with depression?

Depression impacts the way that a person feels, thinks, and acts. Understanding the risks and symptoms can make it easier for you to help someone with depression. You should understand how to interact with your loved ones and encourage them to seek treatment if you suspect that they have depression.

Suppose you are wondering how to help someone with depression. In that case, the first step is understanding the complexities associated with this chronic mental condition. Once you are well-informed, you will be able to interact with your loved ones and encourage them to reach out to a mental health professional.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a chronic condition that impacts how a person acts, thinks, and feels. It is usually a persistent condition that impairs a person’s ability to experience positive emotions such as joy and pleasure and may even become severe enough to impact day-to-day functioning. 

Without treatment, depression can last for extended periods and may even persist for years. This can lead to severe emotional and physical impairment, health complications, and even thoughts of suicide and suicidal ideation. 

Depression is very different from sadness or grief. When a person experiences grief, their painful emotions may come in waves. However, these waves are interrupted with happier memories or recollections of the person they are grieving. For some people depression only occurs in the darker winter months, this is commanly referred to as Seasonal Depression or SAD and can be treated with SAD lamp.

With depression, a person’s mood or interest in activities or things they used to enjoy is significantly reduced for longer periods. This period may last days, weeks, months, or even years. A depressed person may also feel an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Risk Factors Of Depression

Several factors can increase a person’s chances of developing depression. For example, depression is most likely to manifest during a person’s teenage years into their twenties. It is also more common in women than it is in men. 

With that being said, depression can arise at any time and can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, or age. To make sure that you can diagnose and treat their depression correctly, you must be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional. 

The following risk factors of depression may increase the likelihood of developing the condition but are not necessarily indicators that a person has depression:

  • Differences in some brain chemicals may have a role in the presentation of depressive symptoms
  • Depression is often a genetic condition that can run in families
  • People with low self-esteem 
  • People who are easily overwhelmed by stress
  • People who are constantly exposed to violence, especially children
  • Victims of neglect, abuse, or poverty 

How To Recognise Depression In A Loved One

Symptoms of depression can range from moderate to severe and may include some or all the following:

  • Prolonged or severe feelings of sadness 
  • Loss of or decreased interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities and interests
  • Change in or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain that isn’t caused by a change in diet
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much/ too often
  • Increased fatigue or low energy levels
  • Slower movements or speech that is observable by others
  • Increased fidgeting or nervous behaviors 
  • Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or keeping a train of thought
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations
  • Isolation

In some instances, if the depression appears to be seasonal and recurs each year, your loved one might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that typically occurs during specific times of the year, usually starting in the fall and continuing through the winter months. If this is the case they may benefit from a light box for SAD to get them through the darker months.

To better understand whether these symptoms are linked to depression, you will need to seek professional mental health expertise to secure a diagnosis. Depression is usually diagnosed if some or all these symptoms are experienced for at least two weeks or more and if they have caused a change in a person’s previous level of functioning. 

How To Help Someone With Depression

The first step to helping your loved ones is understanding what they are experiencing and/or feeling. It is important to remember that you can’t help someone if you are misinformed or lack information to draw from. 

There are a number of things that you can practice and keep in mind that may make it easier to help your loved one, including:

  1. Depression is serious. Many people tend to underestimate the seriousness of this chronic mental condition because they tend to equate depression to ‘intense sadness.’ Depression is much more complex and involved than feeling sad. 
  2. Depression doesn’t have an off switch. Unfortunately, they can’t manage depression without therapy, a strong support system, and – in some cases – medication, so telling someone who is experiencing symptoms of depression to “think positive thoughts” or change their mindset isn’t going to help. 
  3. Don’t take things personally. Oftentimes, when a depressed person is stressed or feels cornered, they may lash out or react to others in an aggressive manner. No matter how close your relationship may be, this is normal and isn’t a direct reflection of how they feel about you. 
  4. Frustration is normal. People who struggle with depression may come across as nonchalant or uninterested in your help. This is because they find connecting with you on an emotional level. Feeling frustrated is normal, but it’s important to regulate these emotions to avoid feelings of rejection. 
  5. Don’t ignore the signs or symptoms. By making light of your loved one’s depression or ignoring the problem, you may worsen their symptoms and increase the risk of them hurting themselves or others. Once you recognize the signs, discuss contacting a mental health professional with your loved one. 
  6. Depression makes it hard to function in everyday life. It is important to remember that your loved one isn’t lazy or unmotivated. Instead, they may be finding it difficult to perform simple tasks. Helping them accomplish smaller tasks that they find difficult can remind them that they aren’t alone. 
  7. You can’t take away their depression or fix how they’re feeling. Depression is difficult to overcome and needs to be managed with the help of a licensed professional. Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on the impossible responsibility of ‘fixing’ your loved one’s diagnosis. 

In addition to these tips, be sure to do as much research as you can on depression. This can help you to better understand what your loved one is going through. There are also different types of depression. 

If you have suffered from depression, it’s important to remember that while you may have a better understanding of what they may be experiencing, it may not necessarily feel the same.

Talking To Someone With Depression 

Once you have a good understanding of what depression may look like and entail, you should try to talk to your loved ones to let them know that they aren’t alone and to give them a support system to lean on. 

There are certain things that you can say that may help, as well as things that you should avoid saying. The best way to speak to someone with depression is to use words and phrases like:

  • “I care about you and what you’re going through.” Although they may seem simple, these words often mean a lot to someone who feels helpless and may be experiencing intense loneliness. Remember to speak genuinely. Your words should just come from a position of understanding and acceptance.
  • “How can I help you?” Depression puts a lot of strain on people, both physically and mentally, but there are a lot of things you can do to help them recover. If your loved one is hesitant to accept your offer for fear of being a burden, make it obvious that you want to help. 
  • “You matter.” Depression often causes people to believe that their lives are unimportant and that no one cares about them. By letting your loved ones know that they matter to you, you can help them recognize their worth and value. 
  • “I’m here for you.” Depression can make you feel isolated and burdensome. They also tend to isolate themselves, so reaching out to your loved one is a vital first step. You can also put your words into action by spending time with them and checking in on them as often as possible. 

Of course, it’s likely that even if you say “all the right things,” your loved one may still become upset with you. If this happens, you should try to remember that every person is an individual with their own unique thoughts and feelings, and depression is often characterized by being angry and upset.

People will sometimes lash out at others who are attempting to help them because they are in pain and don’t know where to concentrate their negative emotions. If this happens,  try not to take it personally and do your best to maintain your composure.

All you can do is love and support your loved one in a way that they will allow and that they are comfortable with.

Encouraging Them To Get Help

Encouraging your loved ones to get help isn’t as simple as telling them to seek treatment. Instead, there are some things that you can do that may make them more inclined to accept help. 

A person who is depressed may be unaware that they are ill or struggling. It’s important to  express your concern and choose your words carefully. Although depression is a serious mental disorder, it can be treated. 

Up to 90% of people who are diagnosed and are actively receiving treatment respond well to the treatment and can eventually experience relief from some or all their symptoms. 

By having information like a list of symptoms on hand, you may be able to help your loved ones understand what’s going on within themselves. If you have any experience with therapy, you can even try to bring up a positive personal experience with therapy.

If you have discussed the possibility of treatment and your loved one has accepted your offer or seems interested in seeing a health professional, offer to help them find a therapist. 

Finding a therapist can be intimidating. You can conduct some research to identify a few possible therapists and offer to accompany your loved one to their initial appointment.

Remember that finding the proper therapist can take some time, and it’s good to meet with a few different mental health specialists until your loved one feels comfortable with them. 

Don’t be hesitant to ask for a free phone or Skype consultation while you’re going through this procedure. There are even some therapists that will spend up to half an hour on the phone with you.

It’s important to keep in mind that as difficult as it is to see someone you care about suffer, all you can do is encourage and reassure them that they have your unconditional love and support. Of course, this doesn’t include people that are in immediate danger of self-harm.

Suicide Warning Signs

If you think that your loved one is at risk of self-harm or suicide, you should be sure to talk to them and seek immediate emergency treatment. There are a few warning signs to look out for that may give you an indication that they are contemplating suicide, including:

  • Talking about suicide or feeling like they have no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped 
  • Feeling like they are in inescapable pain
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Isolating themselves
  • Giving away their possessions 
  • Saying goodbye to friends or family 
  • Researching suicide or asking questions related to suicide

While these are only a handful of signs, it’s important to stay vigilant and seek emergency care if you feel like your loved one is at risk. 

Wrapping Up

If you suspect that your loved one is struggling with depression, opening a dialogue in a safe and neutral environment can be important to start their journey of recovery. 

Be gentle, kind, and compassionate, and be sure to give them hope. Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions, with many people finding relief from their symptoms after receiving treatment.