It’s tough when a friend or family member is going through a depression. No matter how much you love the people in your life who are struggling, appreciate their company or value their friendship, it can feel impossible to get through to them at times when they are depressed. While you may feel like telling them to simply snap out of it and stop indulging in negative thoughts and feelings, you may also sense their resistance to doing things that could make them feel better. This is because the symptoms of depression can turn people against themselves, making it all the more difficult for them to complete the actions that would help pull them up out of their dejection and ultimately eliminate their symptoms. The important message to get across to people during these despairing times is that depression is not only treatable but temporary. There are ways to get over their depression, and you are there for them to help them through it. Here are some tips on what to do when a loved one is depressed:
Get them to treatment
Like any physical ailment, depression should be taken seriously and treated accordingly. Unfortunately, there is a social stigma about mental illnesses that does not exist about physical illnesses. You can help eliminate this stigma by responding to your friend’s depression with compassion and acceptance and by discouraging any feelings of shame they may have. Getting a person to the treatment that is right for them is essential, so encourage your friend to seek help. Let them know that talking to their doctor or a therapist is an important step toward recovery. People who are depressed can experience a sense of hopelessness that keeps them from believing that anything can help. Yet, both psychotherapy and medications have been proven to make a real difference in alleviating symptoms. Make sure to reinforce the message that treatment is not only available, but necessary.
Stick with them
When a friend goes through a depression, it can feel stressful and tiring to you. You may just want them to snap out of it, the way you would if you were in a bad mood for a period of time. Yet, people with depression can’t just choose to feel better. They’re struggling with a real disorder. As a friend, you should try to exercise compassion and patience. Be consistent in your friendship, letting your friend know that you’re there for them no matter what.
Help them combat their inner critic
People who feel depressed are often listening to an inner critic that encourages them not to do the things that matter to them. It feeds them thoughts, like “This is hopeless. Why even bother trying to feel better?” or “You’re worthless. Stop taking up people’s time with your problems.” As a friend, it’s important that you help this person to not side with this “critical inner voice.” You can encourage them to stand up to this “voice” by having them state their more rational point of view out loud. You can remind them when they’re getting low that they may be taking the advice of this internal enemy. They can learn more about the critical inner voice and how to combat it here.
Participate in activities that help them feel better
There are many active steps people can take to fight their depression. However, the lethargy that accompanies their down state may leave them dragging their feet, even when it comes to activities they once enjoyed. Their critical inner voice will actually encourage them to steer away from actions that make them feel better. Yet, many pastimes, from listening to music to exercising, have been proven to alleviate depression. Learn about eight ways people can actively fight their depression here. Think about ways you can get involved in the activities your friend participated in, allowing them to not feel alone in their journey.
Recognize warning signs for suicide risk
There are many misconceptions about suicide, and one is that you shouldn’t talk about it. When someone is at risk, it’s important to reach out and ask directly if they are having thoughts of hurting themselves. Learning the warning signs for suicide can help you identify when a friend may be in trouble. There are also many helper tasks you can learn that have been proven to save a life. Learn more at PsychAlive’s Suicide Prevention Advice page. If you’re worried that a friend may be in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Pay attention to your own emotional reactions
Having a loved one who is depressed is a painful challenge, and don’t disregard the effect it can have on you emotionally. While it’s important that you reinforce that the person is never a burden, it’s also important to have a place where you can express and understand your own feelings of pain or frustration. It’s hard to see someone close to you suffering. It can stir up feelings of worry, anger and sadness. Seek a friend or therapist who you can confide in about the feelings that arise in you from dealing with a depressed person. Don’t feel guilty or like you have to be the strong one. Taking care of your own psychological well-being is not a sign of weakness; it is just the opposite, a sign of strength and of being responsible.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline If you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.