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How to Help a Loved One With Depression

Helping a loved one with depression doesn’t have to be scary or hard. It just takes a little understanding, patience, and empathy.

What it’s like

One of the most challenging things about my depression is sometimes it can happen with no warning. Life is going great and then wham! When it hits, every. little. thing. seems difficult beyond belief. Getting out of bed takes great strength. Holding even the most simple conversation with someone is draining. Replying to a work email feels more difficult than running a marathon. Everything is hard.

Also, when depression rears its ugly head, it feels like it is feeding on every positive thought I’ve ever had. Suddenly, life has a negativity filter on it and everything that happens to me feels like worst case scenario times 1,000. I’ve lost all hope for anything. No matter how hard I try to be positive about something, my brain clouds over, bringing with it a rainstorm that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Because a mental health condition directly affects how the brain functions and because the brain is essentially our body’s command center, everything gets off kilter.

This is just a small glimpse into what is going on when I’m in the throes of depression.

How to help

We can’t help our mental health condition, and we want you to know that. You can’t tell us to just stop being depressed or to “buck up.” It’s going to take time for us to get through this, and we need you to be patient.

While we’re going through a depressive episode, we need kindness and sensitivity. You don’t have to “baby” us, but just know we may need a little extra help to accomplish tasks. It may take a little bit of work on your part, but anything you can do to make things easier on us like making dinner, or running errands on our behalf, will help out. Remember the part where I said everything seems difficult? I meant everything. And because things are hard, all the plates I’m spinning start to drop. Then I feel even more depressed because I’m having a hard time doing even the most simple things. Know that whenever you can lend a hand, you’re helping to stop that negative cyclical thought process.

Another thing is, please let me sleep or rest but not for too long. When I’m depressed, these activities are a great escape. It gives my mind a break from all the worry and negativity and gives me a chance to recharge. Having said that, though, don’t let me do this for too many days in a row.

Sometimes hiding from the world becomes too enticing of an escape and I can get stuck. This is where you gently need to force me to do something good for myself, like take a walk, go for a run, or ride a bike. Offer to go with me, but don’t expect me to talk much. It’s not because I don’t want to; it’s just that it just takes too much strength. Still, I want you there because it’s just nice to know I’m not alone.

Encourage us. Encourage us to see our therapist or counselor. I know I just said talking can sometimes take too much effort when depressed, but mental health professionals can help us through that. That’s what they’re there for — to help redirect our negative thoughts and talk through ways to get out of the valley we’re currently in.

Also encourage us in general. Positive affirmation is so powerful and really can affect the dynamics of the brain. My mind is so clouded over when I’m depressed; I just can’t see the positive. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s because I can’t. You can help though with your encouragement.

If you’ve never experienced depression before, I know everything I just talked about might seem difficult to grasp. That’s OK. It’s all right for you to admit you don’t know what we’re going through. You can just say, “I’m here for you if you need anything, and I love you.” That right there is one of the biggest things you can do for us… Just let us know we’re not alone and that you see and hear us.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Still I Run.

Thinkstock photo by FogStock/Vico Images/Alin Dragulin