How to Help a Loved one with Depression

Many people have either experienced depression themselves or at least know of one or more people who have suffered from depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 17.3 million American adults in the U.S suffer from depression.

Symptoms of Depression: 

You or a loved one may be suffering from depression if you are experiencing feelings of sadness or emptiness
most of the time, for longer than two weeks. However, other symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Increased levels of irritability
  • Increased levels of fatigue
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Prolonged periods of rumination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

There are many articles and resources available to us on how to help cope with depression, but what about how to help a loved one with depression? Having someone in your life struggling with depression can be distressing, and often we find ourselves feeling helpless seeing someone we care about struggle.

Here are five ways you can help someone struggling with depression:

  1. Active Listening: When people are depressed, sometimes they just want to feel heard and understood. When we love someone, we may tend to want to jump right in and start throwing out suggestions or problem solving. A better approach is to actively listen to that person, wait for them to ask for advice or ask them yourself if they would be interested in advice before giving it.
  2. Avoid Being Judgmental: Depression can manifest in multiple ways. Some people may become angry and lash out, others may pull away and isolate. None of this necessarily means that the depressed person dislikes you, does not want to be around you, is lazy, or selfish. It is OK for you to have boundaries but remember not everything is personal. The depressed person is struggling with an illness.
  3. Provide Hope: Those that struggle with depression often experience feelings of hopelessness. Offering someone hope should be unique to them and not to you. Is this person religious? If so, remind them of their faith in a higher power. Does this person have children, family, or pets? If so, remind them of the things in their life that make them want to keep living.
  4. Counseling: A more obvious way to help someone with depression is to encourage counseling for them, however, do not forget about taking care of yourself. If you are feeling burned out, then you will be less able to help someone else. Think about entering therapy yourself if you find that a loved one struggling with depression is becoming overwhelming.
  5. Be Aware of Signs of Suicide: Passive comments about suicide are still concerning. Often, individuals struggling with suicidal ideation will make jokes about suicide, are researching ways to harm themselves, or making more frequent comments about death and dying. If you believe a loved one may be suicidal you can speak to their doctor or therapist. It is not a violation of confidentiality for health professionals to listen to you. If there is an urgent situation, bring the loved one to the emergency room or call a crisis hotline.

Love and Support

Depression can be hard to experience personally as well as to witness. When a loved one is struggling, our desire to help can be overwhelming. Remember, we cannot fix other people’s problems. The best way to support someone with depression is simply to love and support them. In doing this, however you must be mindful of your own well-being. Failure to do so puts you at risk for developing depression, therefore self-care is especially important.


About Shelton Poulter: 

Shelton is a Supervisee in Clinical Social Work and provides services at our Fredericksburg location. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in Sociology. Shelton received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Throughout her time at VCU she has worked with elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Spotsylvania Public School system. To learn more about Shelton, visit here.

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