Depression affects more than 16 million Americans each year and can be debilitating. You can help others who have depression by following these nine support tips.
When someone you love is struggling with depression, it can be emotionally difficult and confusing. You may feel lost and helpless to do anything for them.
Depression is a complex and challenging mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. If you know someone who suffers from depression your support and understanding can be a lifeline for them in their journey toward healing.
There are ways you can show your support when someone you love is suffering with depression by being there for them, offering practical advice, and showing empathy, patience, and understanding.
9 Ways to Support Someone You Love With Depression
1. Educate Yourself about Depression
Educating yourself about depression is a crucial first step in providing meaningful support to loved ones experiencing depression. By taking the time to understand depression, you equip yourself with the knowledge needed to offer informed and empathetic support, avoid common misconceptions and stereotypes, and approach the topic with sensitivity and compassion.
Additionally, you can more easily recognize even the most subtle signs of depression, so you can offer support early on. Researching and sharing available resources, depression treatments, and support networks can help in their recovery journey. By educating yourself, you become a valuable ally in breaking down the stigma surrounding depression and helping those you care about access the assistance they need to heal.
2. Practice Active Listening
When someone you love opens up about their depression, it’s crucial to offer them your full attention without judgment. Let them express their feelings, thoughts, and concerns. Active listening involves not only hearing their words but also paying attention to their body language and emotions. This can help you grasp the depth of their suffering and offer the support they need.
Resist the urge to provide unsolicited advice or quick solutions. Instead, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share more about their experiences. By validating their emotions and creating a safe space for them to express themselves, you can foster a sense of trust and connection, which is essential for anyone dealing with depression.
3. Encourage Self Care & Self Compassion
Someone suffering from depression may neglect their physical and emotional well-being, and your gentle encouragement can make a significant difference. You can gently encourage them to get some fresh air and exercise, eat a balanced meal, and get enough sleep. You can also offer your support in these activities, like going for a walk together or cooking nutritious meals.
Additionally, emphasize the significance of self compassion. Depression can often lead to self-criticism and negative thoughts. Encourage them to treat themselves with the same kindness and understanding they would a friend facing a similar situation.
4. Avoid Stigmatizing Language
Stigma often arises from misconceptions and stereotypes about depression, and the words we use can either make it worse or help to dispel harmful beliefs. It’s important to refrain from using phrases like “just snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head.” Statements like these not only trivialize the severity of depression but also imply that the person can control their condition through willpower alone.
Instead, choose words that show empathy and support. Use phrases like, “I’m here for you,” “I understand it’s a challenging time,” or “I’m here to listen.” By using language that is sensitive and respectful, you help break down barriers and create an environment where they feel comfortable seeking help and talking through their experience.
5. Be Patient
Recovery from depression can be slow, with its share of ups and downs. Being patient means understanding that there may be setbacks, relapses, and periods of apparent stagnation in their journey. The way you can help is simply providing unwavering support, no matter how long it takes.
Patience also includes the way you respond to their emotions and actions. Depression can manifest in irritability, withdrawal, and apathy, which may be difficult to handle at times. Instead of becoming frustrated, remind yourself that these behaviors are often symptoms of their condition, not personal attacks. By approaching their struggles with patience and understanding, you create a safe space for them to express their feelings without fear of judgment.
6. Check-In Regularly
Depression can be an isolating experience, and those affected by it may not always reach out for help. By proactively checking in, you show you care and that you’re there for them. This act of reaching out can be comforting and reassuring, reminding them that they’re not alone in their struggle.
When checking in, approach the conversation with empathy and without judgment. Create a safe and non-confrontational space for them to express their thoughts and emotions. Your consistent presence, patience, and understanding can provide them with a crucial source of support.
7. Respect Their Boundaries
While it’s important to offer your presence and support, it’s equally vital to acknowledge and respect their need for personal space. Understanding their boundaries shows that you recognize their right to make choices about their own well-being. This includes not showing up unexpectedly or even calling out of the blue. Unexpected pressures like these can spike a person’s anxiety and potentially worsen their depression symptoms.
Additionally, respecting boundaries means not pushing them into situations or activities they’re not comfortable with. Avoid making demands or setting unrealistic expectations. Instead, let them take the lead in deciding what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not. This can contribute to their sense of control and empowerment, which can be beneficial in their recovery process.
8. Offer Practical Help
Practical assistance can range from helping with household chores, cooking meals, or running errands. By taking on these responsibilities, you can alleviate some of the burdens they may be facing and free up mental and emotional energy for their recovery.
However, it’s essential to offer this help in a non-intrusive and respectful manner. Ask them what specific tasks or errands they would appreciate help with, rather than assuming you know what’s best and doing them without permission or invitation. Sometimes, individuals with depression may feel guilty about needing help, so it’s important to reassure them that it’s okay to lean on their support network during challenging times.
9. Recognize Signs of Crisis
Recognizing when depression escalates into a crisis is of utmost importance, as timely intervention can be life-saving. Some signs that depression has reached a crisis point include extreme feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair, as well as expressing thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Other indicators may include a sudden change in behavior, such as increased isolation, a significant loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from social interactions, or a drastic decline in mood and energy.
If you notice a loved one talking about or displaying signs of self-harm or suicide, take these signs seriously and seek help immediately. Encourage them to seek immediate professional help, such as contacting a mental health crisis hotline or going to the nearest emergency room.
If the situation is imminent and you believe they may harm themselves, do not leave them alone and consider calling emergency services. Engaging other trusted friends or family members for support can also be beneficial during a crisis. Remember that your primary goal is to ensure their safety, and timely intervention can be a critical factor in preventing harm and facilitating their recovery.
While you may experience periods where you feel helpless to do anything to help someone you love who’s suffering with depression, these simple ways can show you are there for them and that you care. There’s no quick fix or easy answer for recovery, but having a loving and supportive network can create a safe space that encourages healing.
- Mayo Clinic, Aug. 3, 2022, “Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress,”
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, n.d. “Risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs,” https://afsp.org/risk-factors-protective-factors-and-warning-signs/
- American Psychiatric Association, n.d. “Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness,” https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination