How to Help a Loved One Cope With Depression
Encourage your loved one to seek assistance, even if it means suggesting they visit the doctor regularly for checkups in order to rule out medical causes and refer them for mental health professionals if needed.
Reassure them that depression is a medical condition and not a weakness of character, with symptoms often treated through medication and therapy.
1. Encourage them to seek help.
If your loved one is showing dangerous symptoms of depression, such as self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it is imperative that they seek professional assistance immediately.
If they seem reticent to seek assistance, gently encourage them to do so. Remind them that depression is a medical condition like any other and should be treated just like other illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.
Offer to accompany them or provide transportation when making appointments with their health care provider or mental health specialist, encouraging them to follow their treatment plan and take measures such as getting enough restful sleep, healthy eating habits and refraining from alcohol and drugs use. Offer assistance in practical tasks such as grocery shopping or cooking meals if possible.
2. Be patient.
Depression is a complex illness that requires time to overcome, so your loved one may require new coping skills and collaboration from their treatment team to recover fully.
Encourage them to stick with their treatment plan, including regular physical activity like taking walks. Studies show this is a low-stress activity which can increase endorphins and other neurotransmitters that help boost mood, according to Thames.
Also be sure to set limits on what you are willing to do for a loved one. Caregiving can quickly become overwhelming; offer to cook or clean, but only do what feels comfortable – remember airline flight attendant advice “Put your own oxygen mask on first”. Take time for yourself.
3. Offer to help.
Depression can have a tremendously detrimental impact on everyday life. People living with depression may become forgetful, disorganized and lose interest in activities like grocery shopping and meal preparation. Their irritability may negatively impact relationships and cause them to shirk work commitments or obligations.
Encourage your loved one to participate in regular exercise, healthy eating and socialization – without forcing them into anything they don’t want to do; that can leave them feeling judged and alone. Offer assistance with chores or errands but be wary of falling into the trap of enabling which can reinforce negative behavior; also be wary of offering advice or statements that sound like cures for depression as these could come across as judgmental or insensitive.
4. Find a support group.
Depression can make it hard for anyone to attend appointments, go out with friends, or complete daily household tasks. Offer to assist them in creating a schedule for meals, medications, physical activity and sleep; encourage participation in positive activities like taking walks, working on hobbies or spending time with loved ones.
Many support groups for people suffering from mental illness are offered through local churches, community centers and employee assistance programs. These support groups offer your loved one a safe space where they can share their experiences with people who understand.
Depression is treatable; with time, patience and treatment. Continue to encourage your loved one and check in frequently on how they’re progressing.
5. Be there for them.
Watching someone you care for struggle with depression is emotionally draining; take care not to take out your anger on them by acting irritably or saying unkind words.
Reassure them they are not alone and explain that depression is a medical condition, though most individuals will respond well to treatment. Encourage them to make and keep appointments with their healthcare provider or mental health specialist.
Make and keep appointments, research treatment options and accompany them to therapy sessions. Encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyle practices such as avoiding drugs and alcohol use, eating well, getting enough restful sleep and engaging in physical activities regularly – these will all contribute to creating an improved mood state.
Assure them they will eventually see clearly again, being mindful that everyone’s experience varies. Be patient as each step in the process may take different timeframes.