Helping Someone With Depression


To Help Someone Who Is Depressed, You Need to Be Able to

Recognize the Signs of Depression  

     Sometimes a person gradually slips into depression without realizing how low they have sunk. As their motivation to rise above the sadness is waning, you notice changes in their appearance and behaviors. If you notice some of the following behaviors coming together in someone’s life,  your gut may be telling you that something isn’t right. Listen to it. Friends and family are often the first to notice warning signs and become the first defense in the fight against depression.

Pay attention and start being concerned if you notice the following warning signs:

  • Doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore – Little or no interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other things used to bring pleasure. Has withdrawn from family and friends and other social activities.  He prefers to be alone rather than talk to or be with others. 
  • Expresses a bleak or negative outlook on life – Is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody; talks about feeling “helpless,”  “hopeless,” or “empty.”

  • Frequently complains of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and back pain, or physical complaints like feeling tired and drained of energy all the time.

  • Gets less sleep than usual, sleeps all the time, or oversleeps.

  • Has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, or acts “out of it.”

  • Eats more or less than usual and has recently gained or lost weight.

  • Drinks more or abuses drugs, including prescription sleeping pills, painkillers, or other mood-altering medications, to self-medicate how they feel.

  • Deliberately hurts or attempts to hurt themselves.

  • Talks about suicide or harming someone else

  • Doesn’t know who “they” are, where “they” are, or what time of day it is (i.e., they are disoriented)

  • Begins to experience hallucinations (sees or hears things that are not there) or delusions (believes things that are not true or real)

  • Seems confused about what is going on around them or isn’t making sense with what they say or do

Ways to Support Treatment for Depression
  • Before the appointment, write down a thorough list of all symptoms and ailments you need to discuss with the doctor to prevent forgetting something when you see the doctor.

  • Once treatment begins, help them keep track of appointments and direct their energy toward recovery.

  • Be realistic in your expectations. Recovery from depression takes time and patience. It’s a slow, steady climb back to their pre-depression days.

  • Lead by example. Maintain a healthier lifestyle—eat better, sleep better, avoid drugs and alcohol, exercise, get fresh air, and lean on others when you need support.

  • Encourage activity that is uplifting, fun, and entertaining. Participate in things that are positive and promote a good outlook on life.

Don’t Take Responsibility for Their Decisions

     While you are an important part of your family member’s recovery, you cannot fix them. The success of their recovery is totally up to them. You can help create an environment where they can be successful, give them the tools and resources they need, and clear the pathway, but choosing to follow through and then commit to the plan is the responsibility of your family member. You can’t make someone choose to get better.

     There is also a risk of taking on so much responsibility for your family member’s well-being that you become overwhelmed and risk becoming depressed, too. Be careful not to deplete yourself to the point that there is nothing left for you or your family member resulting in both of you crashing and burning! You must take care of your own needs before taking care of anyone else. It’s easy to overcommit when you are deeply committed to helping someone.  Here are some principles to keep in mind to make sure you are meeting your own mental health needs simultaneously.

  • Speak Up for Yourself – Tell them if the depressed person upsets you or lets you down. Honest communication is important even though they are depressed. If you keep your hurt feelings to yourself, you will resent them, and they will begin to feel the resent you feel toward them for what happened. Those unspoken negative emotions cause more harm than open, honest communications. If you need to share a negative message, say it in a non-accusatory manner as you seek to better understand how to prevent the action in the future.

  • Set Boundaries – Set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. You are not your family member’s therapist, and you should not try to take that responsibility onto your shoulders.

  • Stay on Track with your Life – Keep your appointments and plans with your friends. If you plan to take a class or have a hobby continue to participate. Don’t let them dominate all your time.

  • Seek Support – you are not betraying your depressed relative if you go to a support group or elsewhere to get help. It would help if you had your emotional outlet and place you can speak frankly and confidently without interruption and judgment.

The Risk of Suicide is Real 

Feelings of hopelessness while alone can lead a person to decide to harm themselves in a moment of despair.
Feelings of hopelessness while alone can lead a person to decide to harm themselves in a moment of despair.

Don’t Ignore Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

      If you notice behaviors that indicate thoughts of suicide, ask your family member if they are thinking about harming themselves. By letting them know you noticed their need for help and want to be there for them, you may be able to save their lives. 

  • Encourage your family member to get help from a mental health counselor or psychiatrist.

  • If they don’t go to a mental health professional, suggest seeing their health care provider.

  • Offer to help them find a mental health professional or clinic. Even offer to go with them for that first appointment if they need moral support.

  • Explain to them that sometimes medical problems cause depression, or medication side effects are to blame. Encourage them to seek medical evaluation for that reason if for no other.

Suicide Risk    

 Take the threat seriously. Do NOT leave them alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s difficult to believe someone you care about might be considering suicide, but depression clouds the way a person thinks. Someone battling severe depression may feel there is no way out but suicide.  Often, they convenience themselves that everyone would be better off without them. Death seems the only way to stop the pain.

Warning Signs

     Therefore, become familiar with the following warning signs.

  • Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself or a preoccupation with death

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or self-hate

  • Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways

  • Getting affairs in order, giving precious belongings away, and saying goodbye

  • Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects.

  • A sudden sense of calm after depression

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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