Overcoming depression is incredibly difficult, but the process becomes a little easier when there’s a strong support network in place. If you have a family member who’s depressed, you may be wondering about the best way to provide that support. The truth is that there’s no one answer for how to be there for someone when they’re struggling with their mental health. Depression can affect people and their relationships in different ways, and even if you can help, it’s often a long road to overcoming it.
However, you don’t have to feel helpless when someone you love is struggling. Use the following tips to offer support, encouragement, and understanding when a family member is depressed.
When someone has depression, their loved ones may distance themselves simply because they’re not sure how to help or what to say. But during this time, your presence is more important than ever. Call or text to check up on them. Ask them to hang out, even if all they want to do is sit on the couch at home. If it’s a family member who lives in your home, keep reaching out even if they seem like they want to be alone all the time.
Remind your family member that you love them and that your support is unwavering. Here are a few conversation starters for when you’re not sure what to say:
- “Tell me how you’re feeling.”
- “You are so important to me.”
- “We’re going to figure out how to help you feel better.”
- “I care about you and I want to help.”
- “I will always be here for you no matter what.”
Encourage and Help with Treatment
You can’t force someone to get treatment for their depression, but you can offer encouragement. Don’t tell someone what they need to do to get better. Instead, you could ask, “Have you thought about seeking treatment?” Another way to encourage depression treatment is to tell your family member that you will be supportive of whatever treatment option they choose. This can be helpful if they’re worried about being judged for going to a psychiatrist or taking antidepressants.
One of the most difficult aspects of depression is that it causes people to lose motivation and energy. As a result, people experiencing depression are not always proactive about seeking treatment. That’s why it’s so important to not just encourage your family member to get treated but also to assist them in getting that treatment. Some of the ways you can do that include:
- Research treatment options for them, including alternative treatments like ketamine infusion therapy.
- Ask if they would like you to make calls to find available doctors or schedule appointments for them.
- Help them make a list of their symptoms and questions to ask before their first appointment.
- Offer to drive them to and from appointments or get a prescription filled.
- Help keep track of medication schedules or other treatment follow-up.
Avoid Saying Things That Could Hurt Them
Even if you truly want to help your family member overcome their depression, it’s possible that you could say the wrong thing. This usually stems from a misunderstanding of how depression works, which is why it’s important to educate yourself about this condition. Here are some of the things you should avoid saying to someone who is depressed:
- “Look on the bright side.” – People who are depressed often feel hopeless or worthless. They don’t have control over how they feel, and simply looking at the positives in their life won’t help.
- “Just snap out of it.” – Depression will not go away overnight. Even if your loved one has a “good day,” that doesn’t mean the depression has disappeared.
- “What’s wrong with you?” – Someone who is depressed is not at fault for what they’re going through. It’s a real disorder that requires treatment, just like any other medical condition.
- “We all go through times like this.” – Being depressed is not the same as feeling down or sad. Unless you’ve personally experienced depression, avoid making comparisons or speaking as though you understand what they’re going through.
- “You’ll feel better if you just get out of bed.” – Don’t make someone who’s depressed feel guilty for their fatigue; it’s one of the symptoms of their condition. While some physical activity may help to ease depression symptoms, it’s unlikely to resolve it completely.
Know the Suicide Warning Signs
Depression can distort someone’s thinking. Even if your family member is usually rational, they could see death as the only way out if their depression is really serious. That’s why it’s so important to watch for these signs of suicidal thoughts:
- Talking about suicide or dying
- Preoccupation with death
- Dangerous or self-destructive behaviors
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate
- Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects
- Getting affairs in order
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Sudden sense of calm after struggling with depression
If you think your loved one is suicidal, do not leave them alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.
It’s important to remember that you should not bear the full burden of helping with someone’s depression. While it’s natural to want to help your loved one, you can’t do it all on your own. Ask other family members or friends to help out or join a support group. When you are meeting your own needs and not overextending yourself, you’ll be better equipped to support your family member with depression.