Depression is a prevalent mental health issue that affects individuals from all backgrounds, profoundly impacting their lives. Many of us have encountered situations where we supported our partners dealing with depression. Witnessing a loved one or friend struggling can be challenging, and it is natural to want to provide assistance. However, it can be difficult to know how to support others with depression.
Knowing how to communicate effectively with someone experiencing a depressive episode can be extremely difficult. The symptoms of depression can be overwhelming and intimidating. Nonetheless, it is essential for individuals to find constructive and positive ways to discuss it with their loved ones. The support of family and friends plays a significant role in the treatment of mental health conditions, although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communication.
Active listening, comforting words, and support can be beneficial. Expressing difficult thoughts aloud can diminish their power. It is helpful to consider the usual method of communication with an individual experiencing depression and choose the approach that fosters the deepest connection and intimacy.
How to Support Others With Depression – TOC
Methods to Show Support to Others With Depression
- Initiate a conversation and be open: Encourage the person to express their emotions without belittling or ridiculing their feelings. Recognize that not everyone may feel like talking all the time, and it is important to respect their boundaries.
- Practice non-judgmental listening: Encourage the person to share while you actively listen. Focus your attention entirely on them by putting away distractions such as your phone. Use open-ended questions that promote dialogue instead of simple yes or no answers. Allow for moments of silence without feeling the need to fill them.
- Be considerate of timing for sensitive discussions: Choose an appropriate time and private setting without distractions to address sensitive topics. Avoid using depression as a means of shaming. Wait for a moment when the person is reasonably calm and avoid discussing depression during a conflict or stressful situation. Opt for a relaxed setting, such as during a meal, when it may be easier for them to open up and be receptive to what you have to say.
- Provide words of comfort: Depression often brings about feelings of shame and hopelessness. If you suspect a loved one may be experiencing depression, don’t shy away from discussing it. Let them know that you’ve noticed changes in their emotions or behavior and express your desire to help. Communicate your support and remind them of their significance in your life, emphasizing that they are not a burden.
- Stay vigilant for warning signs of suicide: Encourage your loved ones and friends to seek help if they are experiencing depression or having suicidal thoughts. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs to help prevent suicide. If someone exhibits signs such as discussing suicide, obtaining means to attempt it, expressing hopelessness or being a burden, lacking a reason to live, increasing substance use, feeling trapped, giving away possessions, or saying farewell as if it’s final, take these concerns seriously.
- Suggest they call you before a suicide attempt: Offer the opportunity for them to reach out to you for support.
- Provide positive reinforcement: Assure the person that they don’t have to face their lows alone. Ask them what they need from you. Individuals with depression often harshly judge themselves, finding fault in everything they do and feeling like no one truly cares for them or that they are insignificant. Remind your loved one of their positive qualities and express how much they mean to you and others.
- Create a low-stress environment: In certain situations, individuals may not be ready to engage in a difficult conversation about their feelings. Instead, suggest enjoyable activities such as watching a movie, sharing a special meal, going for a nature walk, or visiting a bookstore. Be aware that certain activities like excessive drinking or shopping can be counterproductive, so monitor their behavior. If humor usually helps the person, utilize it as a tool.
- Encourage them to spend time outside the house, but avoid being insistent or pushy.
- Locating helpful organizations: Inform the person about your willingness to assist and support them. Research available services and treatment centers in their area if they are unable to do so themselves. Help connect them with support groups or individuals facing similar challenges. Explore support options within religious organizations, such as talking to pastors or religious leaders and engaging in small groups.
- Encouraging professional treatment: Encourage the person to seek help and visit their doctor. Discuss the potential benefits of therapy and provide a list of suitable therapists. Offer to accompany them to an initial therapy session for added comfort. If they require inpatient treatment, assist them in getting to the hospital and offer to be their contact person outside. Visit them during their initial days of inpatient treatment to alleviate feelings of loneliness and provide support. Offer assistance with tests and treatment during their recovery period.
- Encouraging participation in spiritual practice: Recognize that faith can play a significant role in depression recovery, whether through organized religious communities or personal spiritual beliefs.
Self-Care Tips to Support Others with Depression
- Educate yourself about depression by reading blogs, books, and websites to gain a better understanding of the condition.
- Take care of your own well-being by seeking help from other relatives or friends and setting boundaries to prevent burnout.
- Be patient and listen empathetically to the person with depression, understanding that finding the right treatment may take time.
- Accept that there will be both good and bad days and continue providing love and support during challenging times.
Examples of helpful and unhelpful statements: Some things to say
- “Do you want to talk about it? I’m here when you’re ready.”
- “We will deal with this together.”
- “Would you like some space?”
- “What can I do to help today?”
- “Do you want some company?”
- “How are you managing? How is your depression?”
- “I care, even if I don’t understand.”
- “How can I best support you?”
- “You matter to me.”
- “Your feelings are valid.”
- “I love you.”
- “That sounds really hard. How are you coping?”
- “Can I do something to distract you?”
- “You’re not alone. I may not understand exactly how you feel, but you’re not alone.”
- “I’m really sorry you’re going through this. I’m here for you if you need me.”
Examples of unhelpful statements:
- “Have you tried eating better, exercising more, or getting outside?”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”
- “But you always look like you have it together!”
- “So many people out there are worse off than you.”
- “Why can’t you just cheer up?”
- “Everything will be OK, I promise.”
- “Don’t I make you happy?”
- “When will you feel better?”
- “It’s not that bad.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “Can’t you understand that this is all in your head?”
- “I know how you feel.”
- “We all go through times like this.”
- “Depression will go away on its own.”
- “Just snap out of it.”
- “You’re making me feel bad.”
- “You have so much to live for, why do you want to die?”
- “Why are you making such a big deal about this?”
- “Just think happy thoughts. I don’t understand what you have to be so sad about.”
- “Your problems are not that bad!”
- “I will cut contact with you if you try to suicide.”
- “Don’t call me if you have suicidal thoughts.”
- “Depression is a choice. The right food or lifestyle change is a cure.”
- “Are you aware that others have it much worse than you?”
- “I cut out sugar and I was cured! You should try it.”
- “Stop being negative.”
- “I’m going to punish you.”
- “I can’t do anything about your situation.”
What to Do and What NOT to Do
Below are some actions to take and avoid when supporting someone with depression.
- Encourage the person to engage in activities they once enjoyed.
- Show physical affection if they are comfortable, such as sitting close, holding hands, or hugging.
- Utilize humor if it usually helps uplift their mood.
- Assist them in keeping track of appointments and medications.
- Engage in regular physical activities together.
- Plan and prepare nutritious meals as a team.
- Arrange enjoyable activities to do together.
- Acknowledge and highlight the progress they have made in their journey to recovery.
- Avoid imposing treatment on the person without their consent.
- Avoid focusing solely on discussing depression during your time together.
- Refrain from organizing surprise parties or social gatherings if they are not up to it.
- Respect their privacy and avoid sharing their contact information with treatment centers.
- Do not discuss the person’s depression with mutual friends without their permission.
- When they express physical pain, do not invalidate their experience by claiming it’s not real.
- Refrain from dismissing their symptoms or insisting that they should be able to feel better if they want to.
The Bottom Line
While reaching out to someone with depression cannot cure them, providing social support can remind them that they are not alone, which can be incredibly helpful during a crisis. Each person is unique, and while some may not know what they need, others may have specific ideas about what could be helpful or detrimental. It is common for individuals to feel ashamed about their depression and believe they should be able to overcome it through willpower alone. However, depression often requires treatment and may worsen without proper care. Offering loving support and encouragement is among the most important things one can provide.
By expressing your love and care without pressure or force, you can be a source of support. While there are no magic words to cure someone else’s depression, being there for them and actively listening can make a significant difference. Remember, you don’t always have to do something grand. It’s the small gestures that matter. Your presence alone can mean a lot to someone with depression. Actions speak louder than words, and even the smallest acts of kindness can have a powerful impact.