How to Help a Loved One with Depression
Many of us may have a family member or friend who suffers from depression. Though it’s especially painful for the person who has depression, it can also be difficult for the rest of us, since sometimes it’s hard to understand. We may feel uncertain around our depressed loved one, not knowing what to do or how to act.
What can we do?
The people closest to someone suffering from depression have a special role to play as their support system. Therefore, we can help in the following ways.
Understand their illness by learning about their symptoms
Depression is an illness like any other, requiring a diagnosis and specific treatment. Many factors come into play to cause depression. It’s doesn’t depend on the person who has it, as many popular yet incorrect myths affirm.
Health professionals are the only ones who can diagnose the illness based on well-defined criteria. We can read books and information from reliable sources and consult with different professionals to improve our understanding of depression and better help our loved ones.
Encourage them to seek help and stick with their treatment
You should seek treatment for depression because:
- It is treatable.
- In time, treatment reduces the pain and suffering.
- The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more complications you’ll have upon starting.
- Treatment can prevent serious consequences of depression, such as suicide attempts.
As a family member or friend, we can help them follow the treatment. We can also help our loved one maintain a healthy lifestyle (good nutrition, regular exercise, etc.)
Offer support, without hovering or overprotecting
In order for support to be successful, it must be offered from a certain distance. We needn’t hover around the person. Instead, offer them affection, be understanding and patient. It’s useless to overload them with advice or commands, since these will only increase their feelings of guilt and powerlessness.
Depression is an illness. It does no good to say “If I were you…” or “I completely understand. I know how you feel.” You have to keep this in mind.
To put the person at ease, we can tell them we understand their struggle, that they’re not crazy and that it’s an illness that affects many people.
People suffering from depression tend to be very sensitive to offerings of help. Therefore, we shouldn’t be too maternal or too passive. If they’re already feeling useless, this kind of behavior will only strengthen that feeling, and they’ll express it by saying things like “I’m good for nothing.”
Depressed people often get tired very quickly, because they’re constantly fighting against their fatigue and negative thoughts. So, you shouldn’t demand too much from them, or make them do things against their will; but we can motivate them every once in a while with love and compassion. And when they actually make an effort, it’s good to acknowledge it.
Lastly, it’s important to keep an open mind and not discredit the feelings and emotions they show. We can point out reality and offer them some hope to face the situation at hand.
Self-care, the key to supporting a relative with depression
Depression could turn into a long process where we share our loved one’s suffering, during which we’ll find the strength to give them our love and support. Therefore, it’s essential to avoid exhaustion and discouragement.
The abundance of negative thoughts depressed people experience — about themselves, others and the world — can generate feelings of irritability and sometimes even rejection in the people around them. So how can you deal with this?
- Don’t feel guilty about your loved one being depressed. No one is to blame. It’s a disease that appears due to the convergence of multiple factors (biological, psychological, etc.)
- When you feel powerless or overwhelmed, you can also resort to professionals that can offer you their help and guide you through the illness.
- If your loved one tends towards isolation, it’s convenient for you to remind them that it’s not good to stay locked away from the world all of the time. Adapt to the situation, without putting the rest of your life on pause.
Remember that in order to take care of someone else, we need to be healthy. So, don’t forget to care.