“Ed hasn’t been himself in months,” Lynn said to me, worry etched in her voice.  She continued, “He has no interest in anything.  He just sits and watches TV. It’s so unlike him. But every time I ask if he’s okay, he insists he’s fine and I should stop worrying.”

Lynn was right to be concerned.  According to a report by The Centre for Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group1, “on average a person with depression is at least 50% more disabled than someone with angina, arthritis, asthma or diabetes.” Yet someone with a physical illness typically reaches out for help while a depressed person often isolates rather than seeking help.

Signs Your Loved One is in a Bad Place Emotionally

First, know what symptoms you are looking for.  Years back, well before I became a therapist a close friend was clearly exhibiting signs of depression but her husband and I didn’t know what to look for; just that something was “off.” We thought she’d snap back and soon be herself, but it took Ann saying she was going to down an entire bottle of sleeping pills for us to realize she was in serious trouble.

Be concerned if your loved one:

  • Feels hopeless, negative, cannot voice one positive aspect of life
  • Experiences persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness versus occasional low moods
  • Has difficulty sleeping or is constantly sleeping; is unable to eat or constantly eating
  • Has pronounced lack of energy and /or difficulty focusing
  • Is irritable
  • Shows no interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Expresses a wish to be dead
  • Expresses a desire to kill him or herself

If your loved one is not only expressing suicidal thoughts but has also created a plan to commit suicide and/or is talking about giving away his or her belongings, you cannot delay. Immediate help is needed. Call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.

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Do’s and Don’ts

If the situation is not urgent then do not take away his or her autonomy. Rather, take these steps.

Timing is Important

Which is the best place to have a sensitive conversation with someone who is emotionally fragile?

  1. At a crowded restaurant where the tables are jammed together and there is no privacy
  2. When the two of you have privacy and no distractions (i.e: children underfoot), looming deadlines or appointments.

Okay, the choices above were pretty exaggerated but the point is clear.  The two of you should be alone and fairly relaxed.

Be Empathetic, Not judgmental

Remember in Moonstruck when Cher said to a besotted Nicolas Cage, “Snap out of it.” Well, a depressed person needs to have his or her feelings validated, not belittled or otherwise called into question.

Be gentle and use “I” statements – such as “I love you very much. You are a very special person to me and I am concerned that everything is not okay.”

It is quite possible your loved one will react defensively, so work hard to not get offended but to stay loving and supportive.  Say something like, “I think you are one of the kindest, smartest, loyal people I know and it feels like you are going through a rough patch and I’d like to help you the way you would help me.”

Show Your Knowledge About Depression

A depressed person may not be aware he or she is ill – and that the illness likely is treatable.  It can be helpful to share a symptom list of depression so that your loved one can recognize what is going on.  You might say something like, “Some of the things that are concerning to me is that you haven’t gone to the gym in over a month, and you usually go three times a week.”

If you have personal positive experience with therapy, you can bring that up, or start a conversation about the unfortunate stigma around mental health and going to therapy.

Offer to Do Legwork

The task of finding a therapist can feel overwhelming even without being crippled by the paralysis of depression. You can do some research to find a few potential therapists and offer to accompany your loved one to the first session.

You can use an online directory to find a therapist based on your location, insurance, and language, and can see which conditions each mental health professional specializes in.

If money is an issue (it is certainly often used as an excuse), if possible you can offer to pay for the therapy or to help your loved one find an affordable therapist. A lot of therapists offer a sliding scale, which means that they will charge you a fee that works for you. Some therapists even take on a number of clients for free as part of an ethics code that says they will provide some services pro bono as a gesture of good will.

Be Patient

Keep in mind that finding the right therapist can often take time and that it’s fine to meet with several different mental health professionals until your loved one feels like they can connect with that person. Don’t be afraid to ask for complimentary consultations by phone or by Skype as you are going through this process, as some therapists will spend half an hour on the phone with you for free.

A hard as it is to see someone you care deeply about suffer, unless the person is in serious danger of self-harm all you can do is be encouraging and let him or her know your love and support are unconditional, and you will be there every step of the way.

*All patients’ names are changed

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Last Updated: Apr 17, 2018