Helping a friend or loved one with depression can be challenging. For many people with depression, the symptoms are severe enough to cause problems with day-to-day activities (e.g., attending school or getting to work each day), but others might feel miserable or overwhelmed without knowing why. If someone in your life has depression, whether or not that person has a diagnosis, you might feel at a loss for how to best support that person.

The most important step toward helping a loved one with depression is to understand the symptoms. The course of major depressive disorder is variable, and symptoms vary from person to person. Familiarizing yourself with the possible symptoms will help you better understand what your loved one is experiencing.

Symptoms of major depressive disorder

The essential feature of a major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks marked by either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. In children and adolescents, the mood is more likely to present as irritable than sad.

Other symptoms can include the following:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts and irritability
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities (sports, interests, even sexual activity)
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain due to changes in appetite
  • Psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (slowed down)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating or indecisiveness nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent thoughts of suicide, or a suicide attempt or suicide plan
  • Symptoms cause impairment in social and occupational functioning

Encourage treatment

People with depression might not acknowledge that they’re struggling. Lack of awareness about symptoms of depression can cause people to consider their feelings normal or dismiss them as a time-limited struggle. The stigma of seeking treatment for depression can also cause people to attempt to overcome treatment independently.

Depression seldom gets better without treatment, and it can actually worsen over time. Research shows that both antidepressant medications and cognitive therapy are effective in alleviating symptoms. Other treatments include interpersonal therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and neurofeedback.

It can be difficult to encourage treatment, particularly if the person doesn’t acknowledge the depression. It helps to consider some talking points:

  • Share what you’ve noticed and talk about why you’re concerned.
  • Suggest a physical with a general practitioner as a first step to rule out any other medical issues that might cause the symptoms
  • Explain what you’ve learned about the symptoms of depression and how depression can negatively impact people
  • Offer to accompany your loved one for the physical and to any other appointments
  • Help your loved one prepare a list of questions to ask the doctor or psychotherapist

Practice compassionate listening

If your loved one tends to internalize emotions, he or she might feel overwhelmed when you share your concerns about possible symptoms of depression. The best thing you can do in the moment is use compassionate listening. Your loved one’s depression is not for you to fix, but being present and listening to your loved one talk can help that person feel heard and understood.

Use these phrases:

  • I am here for you
  • You’re not alone in this
  • I might not understand exactly how you feel right now, but I want to help you
  • Tell me what I can do to help

Avoid using these kinds of phrases:

  • This is just a phase; it will pass
  • Everyone feels this way sometimes
  • Why can’t you see the positive?
  • Snap out of it
  • The more you think about it, the worse you will feel
  • Think about all the great things in your life!

More often than not, sitting in silence and use nonverbal cues to communicate support is more helpful than trying to find the perfect words.

Be helpful

Depression can make everyday tasks, like driving and grocery shopping, feel impossible. Ask your loved one how you can help in small ways:

  • Help schedule appointments
  • Provide a ride to and from appointments
  • Grocery shop and do other tasks with your friend
  • Offer to take walks together a few times a week
  • Ask if you can help around the house
  • Offer to go watch movies or get out of the house together

Crisis intervention

The risk of suicide exists at all times during major depressive episodes. The most consistent risk factor is a past history of suicide attempts, but most completed suicides are not preceded by unsuccessful attempts. Living alone, being male, and having prominent feelings of hopelessness also increase the risk of suicide.

If you believe your loved one is at risk of suicide, do not leave that person alone. Dial 9-1-1 and stay with your loved one.

Take care of yourself

Caring for a loved one with depression can be complicated and overwhelming. Be sure to attend to your own personal needs, create appropriate boundaries, and seek help from a therapist or support group.

 

 

 

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Last Updated: Jun 6, 2017