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Depression: Supporting a Friend or Family Member

By: Sarah Cline, LCSW, PMH-C

If you have a friend or a family member who is suffering from depression you may want to help but be unsure of how to. I am referring to a major depressive disorder in this article. Sometimes people suffering from depression can push others away even though inside they deeply need support. It can be challenging for those who love the person because depression can be confusing and scary at times. The following are some tips for supporting someone in your life who is suffering from depression.

  • Educate yourself about depression: Read article, watch videos, listen to podcasts, or books. Don’t expect the person in your life to educate you about depression when they are in the midst of a depressive episode (a period of exacerbated symptoms including fatigue, lethargy, very low mood, loss of hope, lack of self-worth, mental fogginess, difficulty with sleep and appetite, and at times irritability).

  • Check in with them: A text to let them know you are thinking of them goes a long way. Refrain from just sending a text that says “how are you?” The person may feel defeated when they continually answer that question the same……”not good or bad.”

  • Offer to help in a concrete way: Often times well-meaning family and friends say to a person with depression, “let me know how I can help or I wish I could help.” This is a kind thing to say but somewhat useless. A person experiencing a depressive episode often struggles to organize thoughts and may not know what specifically they need help with. Instead, offer to help with something concrete. Offer to drop off a meal, run an errand, sit with the person without trying to fix it, take kids to school/pick them up, or take a walk with them and just listen if they want to talk.

  • Encourage them: Remind them of who they are when they aren’t depressed. Have hope for them. Share that hope but be careful not to minimize the reality of their suffering and hopeless feelings. Statements like, “I know it feels hopeless right now, that must feel terrible. I have not given up on you (the situation) and I will support you until maybe you find some hope again too.” Encourage things like showers, drinking water, eating some balanced meals, rest, movement, and talking to their doctor and therapist about how they are doing.

  • Always take suicidal comments seriously: If your loved one mentions feeling like ending their life or like they wish they were dead, ask questions, find out more. Help them get help immediately if they have a clear plan and intention of acting on their thoughts now or in the very near future.

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