What to Do When You Feel Powerless in Helping Your Loved One With Depression

If you have watched a loved one go through a major depressive episode you know all too well that feeling of powerlessness – of wanting to help in some way but you don’t know how or what to do. Even worse, your loved one might not have anything to say to you when you ask what you can do to help. If this sounds all too familiar to you, here are a few ideas and things that worked for me (or that I wish my family had known) while I was in my worst state.

1. Help Them Seek Help

It may seem strange to you, but even while they are at their worst, they have a hard time seeking professional help. Many with a mental illness have a hard time getting out of bed, let alone scheduling and making appointments. It can be as simple as making sure they have a ride to counseling or their psychiatrist appointment. It may seem silly to you, but just being there with them while they make those calls can really help provide some positive reinforcement.

2. Listen

Yes, that’s right, listen. We all want to “do” something, but just being there and listening let’s your loved one know you care. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t try) to be their counselor – that’s not your job. Don’t worry about saying anything at all. It’s part of human nature to want to be understood, and one of the things someone with a mental illness struggles with the most is feeling like no one understands or cares.

3. Get Them Out of the House

Most people who are depressed tend to isolate themselves. You can help by finding an activity that takes them out of their isolation. Go to a movie, go to a concert, go out for ice cream – it doesn’t have to be some elaborate event. In fact the simpler the better at first. Some of the best things for me have been things that don’t cost anything at all. Don’t underestimate how much good a walk can do.

4. Don’t Take Things Personally

If you love someone who has a mental illness, you will get frustrated and let down. They may cancel plans with you at the last minute or lash out at you when they’re having a bad day. Do your best to not take it personally. Instead, see through the hurt and realize it’s not about you at all. It’s about them and what they are going through. That’s easier said than done, but patience and thick skin will serve you well as you love them. Trust me, they are just as frustrated with themselves when they let you down.

These are just a few tips for helping a loved one with depression. Now it’s your turn. What’s worked for you or what would you add?

Image via Thinkstock.

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