My loved one has depression. What to do?

Depression… this word is used so often that it got “worn out” and lost its significance. But it is not just a melancholy, a bad mood, feeling upset, or wanting to cry. This is a serious medical condition, a psychological illness the main symptoms of which include low mood and a decreased or completely lost ability to experience pleasure (anhedonia).

Sometimes, it is easier to endure your own illness than the illness of a loved one. But life happens and… your loved one has depression. How can you help and not harm?

1. You need to realize that depression is a serious condition. It is not capriciousness or a whim. It is not something that the person can just “snap out of” at will.

2. Are you ready to be close and help? If yes, then say it clearly to your loved one: I am here with you while you need me and I will help you deal with it. Let them know that you will be with them no matter what and that their state doesn’t change how you feel about them.

3. Do not get upset, resentful, or take things personally if you don’t get any feedback. A depressed person is not just being difficult – they truly may not have energy even for a conversation.

4. Do not devalue the feelings and emotions of a depressed person. Do not try to discount their suffering (“It could have been worse!”), cheer them up (“Look – the weather is so nice, be happy that the sun is out!”), or give them a pep-talk (“Pull yourself together!”, “Stop whining!”). The only thing that the person will hear is that you don’t understand them. They will feel even worse because they are not able to follow your advice.

5. Suggest that they seek professional help. Find references for a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist. It is neither scary nor shameful – it is necessary when dealing with depression.

6. Help them with some everyday tasks, but do not take on yourself all of them – otherwise, the person may become completely helpless. A depressed person may have difficulties cooking meals or may forget to eat.

7. Try to provide some diversion (depending upon the degree of depression). It may be something simple: offer to meet with friends, go to a swimming pool, draw something together, or watch a movie. Do not overdo it since depression drains the person emotionally and physically.

8. Carefully, little by little, engage the person in some social interaction.

9. A depressed person loses a lot of self-esteem. Often, they may feel like “a nobody”, “useless”. Try to remind them about their past successes, ask them for help or advice.

10. Take care of yourself. Yes, this is very important because when you are trying to support a depressed person you can burn out yourself. Do not forget about your feelings and do something for yourself. Remind yourself that to “pull” the person out of depression is not within your power. You can only help them.