How can you support someone with depression? They may fervently believe that nobody can help and life is pointless. This lack of hope is a common symptom. But there is point to their life and there are plenty of things that you can say and do to help.
I’ve written this post from my own perspective, having suffered with depression for lengthy periods and having been helped enormously by the care of others. These are suggestions that I hope will give you solid ideas on how to support someone with depression.
1. Understand Depression
Learn all that you can about depression. The better you grasp the illness, the more effective you will be in giving your care and support. It will help you to understand why the person behaves the way they do, and better equip you to respond appropriately.
2. Appropriate Depression Treatment
This is such a far-reaching, wide-ranging topic that I would be foolish to give advice. It will be helpful for you to explore the treatment options available in your area and suggest to the person that they need professional help. It might be helpful for them if you go along to the first or subsequent appointments.
If he or she won’t admit their illness then explain why you are concerned and perhaps provide them with some helpful written information to think over.
3. Emotional Support
Your partner or friend needs patience, care and understanding. They have a real illness, and just like someone with cancer they can’t just “snap out of it”. If they could, they would. Saying things that show ignorance about how to deal with depression is counterproductive and will reinforce their negative thinking.
The best way to communicate is to empathize, listen more than talk, and ask questions like “How can I support you?” or “How can I help?”
4. Separate the Illness and the Person
The depression and the person suffering with depression are not the same thing, so keep them separate. When they express pessimism, anger, frustration, or sadness, it is the illness talking not the person. If you separate the two you will find it easier to cope emotionally. It will help you to be a more effective caregiver.
5. Listen Non-Judgmentally
Don’t try to talk a depressed person out of their feelings, no matter how irrational they sound. This is likely to compound the problem. It is better to remain neutral and say something like “You are obviously really suffering with this. What can I do to help you feel better?” Keep your suggestions, solutions and advice for another time.
6. Make a Plan for Coping with Depression
Help the person to make a plan for how to cope with depression. Identify things that trigger or worsen the depression and things that make it better. Think through and list the ideas formally on paper. Help them to put this plan into action. Some positive, helpful things to include are getting to bed early, having adequate sleep, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water and eating healthy foods.
7. Look After Yourself
As a caregiver you are likely to be under stress. You need to care for yourself by taking time out and recharging your batteries. Find other friends or relatives who you can talk to and rely on at a pinch. Sometimes you will need a sounding-board to keep things in perspective. Make sure you continue to live your own life as well, and spend time doing things you enjoy.
There are services that provide education and support for caregivers. Through information sessions and support groups, you can talk to people who are in a similar position.
8. Organize their Medications
If your partner or friend is taking depression medication then it is crucial for them to follow their prescription. Too many people go on and off their anti-depressants depending on how they feel. This all but eliminates their effectiveness.
I take medicine at night without any problems, but if it wasn’t for my wife handing the pills to me I would never take them in the mornings. She also fills my scripts and tells me when to go to the doctor for more. It’s not laziness; it’s just the nature of depression. More than once I have spent hours in bed staring at my pills, but not had the mental energy to actually take them. If your partner or friend is not taking their depression medication as prescribed, try to find out how you can help.
9. Depression Support Groups
Introduce the idea of joining a depression support group. This will give them an outlet for discussing their problems and receiving input, and help them to discover that there are other (normal) people experiencing similar problems. There are depression support groups everywhere. Make sure that you find one that is positive and focused on recovery. Inward looking, pessimistic groups can be unhelpful.
10. Get Out and About
One of the most therapeutic things that a depressed person can do is step out the front door. Natural light is very beneficial, especially early in the day. Exercise also has proven benefits. Something as simple as taking a walk or gardening should lift the person’s mood. Anything low-key that involves going out can also help; seeing a movie, meeting friends, or going out to eat, to name just a few ideas.
11. Help with Daily Tasks
When your body is heavy and your mind is dark, there is nothing harder than the burdens of everyday life. Looking after something that seems minor to you may be invaluable in helping a person with depression. Ease their burden by helping with the daily load – running errands, doing the shopping, cooking, taking the kids out for a couple of hours. You may be surprised to find that helping with a very simple chore could relieve them of a lot of stress.
12. Spend Normal Time Together
Just spending time with the person lets them know that you care and want to understand their problems. Enjoy the reasons for being their companion in the first place. It’s important that they live as normal a life as possible. Help them to do this by carrying on your relationship with them in a normal fashion. Don’t let everything get dark and serious. Find some positive things and try to enjoy them together.
The points above are very general by necessity. I realize that they don’t fit all circumstances, but I hope they give you some ideas on how to support someone with depression.
The mood chart applications found on this site are effective tools for understanding and managing depression. They help people discover the triggers and early warning signs of new episodes, and the most effective strategies, specific to them, that they can adopt to stay well.
Are you working out how to support someone with depression? Please take a look at our mood chart apps, and consider purchasing a license for the person you care for.