by Ari Borhanian
We’ve talked before on this blog about the surprising commonality of depression. Over time, many people have moved passed the general misconceptions of what individuals suffering from depression are experiencing. With 17.3 million adults affected by depression every year, it’s no wonder it’s become a major part of the conversation. But while awareness of depression is definitely improving, it can still be an overwhelming and intimidating challenge to know how to help someone in your life who is suffering from the devastating mental illness. Here are five ways you can help someone in your life who is suffering from depression, while still taking care of yourself.
1. Recognize the symptoms for what they are
This is the fundamental first step. By its very nature, depression will often prevent an individual from expressing what they’re going through to others, whether it’s due to self-consciousness, stress, or a lack of motivation. An element of an attentive friendship is being aware of the warning signs of depression when you see them, and being willing to take steps when you see them. Ignoring depression will not make it go away, and it’s a mental illness that tends to compile on itself and get worse over time when untreated.
Some of the symptoms that you might see in someone suffering from depression are a lack of energy or sense of caring, a grim outlook, oversleeping, overeating, and physical pain. It is not your job to be their psychologist, but if you notice someone close to you suffering from these symptoms, don’t be afraid to speak out and ask them what they need from you.
2. Create a safe, open network of communication
Oftentimes, a person suffering from depression won’t seem particularly interested in discussing their affliction. They might blame their symptoms on their own inadequacies, or go so far as to outright deny the issues you see in front of you. While it’s not possible to force someone to listen to you, it is possible to give them a sense of safety and the knowledge that, no matter what, they can come to talk to you if they need someone to reach out to when they are alone. Keeping boundaries in mind, it can be incredibly encouraging to someone suffering from depression to know that someone close to them cares (something they often feel isn’t true), and they will know that they can reach out to you in the future.
Again, you cannot (and should try to) force someone to have a conversation they don’t want to have. But letting them know you’re available to hear them out without judgment clears some of the doubts they may have been harboring.
3. Hold them accountable
While it’s important to be empathetic to the struggles of someone experiencing depression, you should also make sure that they are taking care of themselves, because more often than not, those dealing with depression will neglect many areas of their life, be they hygiene, work responsibilities, social needs, or general health. If there’s one thing that you can do to help someone in this situation, it’s to remind them (gently) that they can’t let themselves fall apart. It’s easy for a person dealing with mental illness to deteriorate very quickly if no one holds them accountable or checks in on them. By helping them to create a support system that helps them take care of their needs through accountability, you can take a large step toward helping them achieve a healthy state of being.
4. Encourage them to seek further help
Depression isn’t like a cold; it’s not something you can often just leave to its own devices to heal over time. While depression can come from circumstances and fade once those circumstances are no longer an issue, more often than not—even in situations where a person develops depression due to an outside influence—it will not just leave on its own. Even with your and others’ help, it’s important that a person dealing with these struggles knows that they can and should seek help available to them. Psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to assist people dealing with mental illness in overcoming them; just as you would send a friend with a broken leg to a hospital, so too should you encourage them to seek mental help when they are dealing with depression.
5. Practice Self Care
Through all of your efforts in helping your friend deal with their depression, it’s very important that you take care of your own needs as well. Otherwise it can become a relationship that is harmful to both of you. If the person is relying on you to survive, with literally no other avenues, it’s important that you help them find other areas in their life where they can get support so that the weight is not all on your shoulders. In doing so, make sure they don’t feel like you’re blaming them, or that they should feel ashamed for seeking your help; this can lead to them retreating into isolation. Positively assist them in expanding their support system beyond you and you alone. In the meantime, remember to take care of yourself, because if you neglect yourself, there’s no way you can effectively help them, and then you’re both struggling, rather than just one of you.
Depression is a brutal and devastating illness, and it’s only through the support of others that people can overcome it in the majority of cases. If you keep an eye out for warning signs, open a dialogue, hold them accountable, and help them seek assistance, all while taking care of yourself, you can go a long way toward helping your loved one on the road to recovery.
“Helping Someone with Depression.” HelpGuide.org, 12 June 2019, www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-someone-with-depression.htm.
“Depression Statistics.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, www.dbsalliance.org/education/depression/statistics/.