What can I do to help a depressed loved one?

The first step to helping someone with depression is to educate yourself about the mental disorder. Learn the symptoms of depression, so you can have patience and understanding when dealing with your loved one. Her depression symptoms may include:

• feeling sad, down, or empty inside
• feeling worthless, useless, or hopeless
• feeling guilty
• irritability or restlessness
• not wanting to do things she once loved
• isolating herself from loved ones
• eating more or less than usual
• tiredness (fatigue)
• clouded thinking and trouble concentrating
• trouble sleeping or sleeping a lot
• abusing alcohol or drugs
• having suicidal thoughts
If you want to approach a family member who is struggling with depression, the key is to be empathic and supportive. Sometimes it just helps them to know that someone is witnessing their struggle. Keep in mind that sometimes depression can result in a person being more irritable than usual; take a moment to consider whether this is a change from his or her norm and consider depression as a possibility. Consider your audience when offering up help --older adults may not feel as comfortable with seeking "therapy" and a good place for them to start may be their regular physician. Reassure them that help will actually "help" and allow them to move forward. Stress that you will be there for them as they move forward through this process.
It's hard to see someone you care about going through depression. What can you do? Here are a few ideas.
  • Remind yourself that depression is a medical condition, not laziness or a character flaw. Know that a depressed person can't just "snap out of it." Explain to children that the person is sick, not angry with them.
  • Encourage your loved one to get proper treatment. Drive them to the doctor, if necessary.
  • Listen and be patient. Offer a shoulder to lean on, not a solution or judgment. Remember that no one is depressed on purpose and that recovery takes time.
  • Support and celebrate recovery. Encourage your loved one to stay active. Keep inviting them to gatherings and events. Applaud their efforts and milestones toward recovery.
  • Take care of your own emotional and physical health. Feeling dragged down by your loved one's depression? Think about your natural way of seeking support, and follow it. It may help to get counseling, join a support group, or discuss your feelings openly with friends. For other people, it helps just to have the company of people you enjoy while doing something active. Either way, find healthy ways to relieve your stress.

As the caregiver of someone who has symptoms of depression, you'll be tasked with most of the household chores. The depressed person is likely to sleep a lot and -- without treatment -- may lack the energy or motivation to help you. Your loved one may not be able to keep a job, appointments, or perform personal hygiene. For you, the depression caregiver, the stress of household, financial, and personal responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming.

"One of the most difficult parts for family members is understanding this illness, especially if the members have never experienced depression firsthand," says Lisa Rene Reynolds, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in Connecticut. Dr. Reynolds recommends that depression caregivers get to know the illness by talking to the depressed person's doctor or therapist and reading about depression. She warns that managing one's own emotions can be difficult. "Feeling resentful about pulling all the weight, worry about the increased chance of self-harm, lack of control over fixing the situation, and frustration or anger are all common thoughts and feelings," she explains.

Over time, caring for a depressed loved one can impact your own health and wellness, including your quality of sleep, your stress level (higher levels of stress can cause psychological and physical issues, such as high blood pressure, a lower immune system, and anxiety), and your performance at work or school. In terms of relationships, a partner's chronic major depression can also increase chances of divorce and social isolation, Reynolds says.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.