7 ways to support someone with depression
People may use the word “depressed” to describe their feelings about life’s normal ups and downs. But depression is more complex than that. It’s a serious illness, and its symptoms must last longer than 2 weeks for a diagnosis.1
There are different types of depression, too. They include postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder and major depressive disorder. These and a number of other types collectively affect 20 million people in the United States.2
And while depression’s greatest impact is on the person who has it, it might also affect the people around them. Because depression is common, there’s a good chance you may know someone who experiences it, such as a friend, family member or co-worker.1
It can be hard to know how to help someone with depression, explains Cara Gardenswartz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Group Therapy LA/Group Therapy NY. A good first step? Understanding the basics of the condition.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
In today’s world, many people communicate more digitally than in person. That can make it tough to know what’s truly happening with loved ones. But being aware of common signs of depression can be lifesaving.
The signs and symptoms of depression can be confused with other conditions, Dr. Gardenswartz says. “Depression is a mental condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness or the lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities,” she explains. People with depression may have other symptoms as well. Those can include:3, 4
Changes in appetite or weight
Sleep issues (such as insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping)
Loss of energy
Loss interest in things you enjoyed before (such as hobbies or activities)
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
A sad, anxious mood that can’t be shaken
Thoughts of death or suicide
Changes in a person’s behavior may also indicate depression, such as:1,3
Being unable to make easy decisions
Pacing and/or fidgeting
Not going to work or school
Withdrawing from social interaction
Giving their belongings away
Depression can also arise as a response to certain outside factors. For example, difficult life events — such as the loss of a loved one — may be a trigger for depression.5
How to help someone with depression
Take a look at these 7 tips to learn how to help support a person who may have depression.
1. Seek out info and help about the condition
Online resources can provide more accurate and helpful information about depression. Learn more about the condition from resources like government agency and library content. One option incudes the National Institute of Mental Health.
If the situation is serious, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is confidential and free. Anyone can call or text 988 to connect with a crisis counselor. Or you can go online at 988lifeline.org. This support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.6 Also, you can call 911 in a life-threatening situation.
2. Offer the person a safe space
It’s critical to provide a nonjudgmental space for someone with depression. There’s real value in listening and just being there from someone. Creating a safe space can also mean being available and not judging. Try to resist doing that or placing blame. “Don’t try to change how they feel or encourage them to act or be positive,” Dr. Gardenswartz advises.
Knowing that treatment takes time can also help create a safe environment. Treatment doesn’t follow a simple, straight line. “Avoid pressuring people with depression to hasten their recovery and progress,” she says.
3. Encourage them to seek professional help
“Offer help in finding resources, or even accompany them to a therapy appointment,” Dr. Gardenswartz says. Focus on the fact that professional help is a healthy step forward.
- Online resources: For instance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a Finding a Mental Health Professional online guide.7
- Online search: An online search for a mental health professional in your town/state can also be a good start.
4. Be a helping hand
People who are depressed often find the basics of daily living overwhelming. That could include grocery shopping, doing laundry and running errands. It’ll likely be a huge help to assist with practical tasks.
Be sure to ask how you can best help. Or offer to tackle a specific task where you see a need.
5. Stay connected
Social isolation may lead to or worsen depression symptoms.8 A phone call or text can mean so much to someone struggling with depression.7 “Check in frequently without pressure,” Dr. Gardenswartz says.
6. Encourage self-care
Self-care often improves mental health.9 Yet depression can make even small things feel daunting. Gently encourage good sleep habits — such as getting 7 hours or more of sleep a night and having a consistent routine10 — and exercise, suggests Dr. Gardenswartz. Remind the person to engage in activities they enjoy.
Another way to help a person with depression is to participate in self-care practices with them. Ask them to go for a walk. Or cook a nutritious meal together. Offer to treat them to their favorite nail salon or barber.
7. Engage other people to help
It can be overwhelming to support a person with depression alone. Dr. Gardenswartz suggests asking for consent to involve other friends, family members or trusted people to provide assistance. “This can help create a network of support and ensure they receive the care they need,” she says.
If their symptoms worsen and you think they may harm themselves or others, or they are threatening suicide, seek out the nearest emergency room — or call 911.
Being there to offer support and care can make a real difference in a loved one’s depression. “Unwavering support is standing by their side and encouraging them to seek professional help,” Dr. Gardenswartz says.