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10 Ways to Support a Loved One With Depression

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It has taken me a very long time to find the courage to talk about this and to be frank, I am still extremely fearful of the consequences of announcing this publicly. But I hope that by talking about it, I can help others.

I have dysthymia.

It is a persistent mild depression that can lead to bouts of major depression which, when it occurs, is ironically known as “double depression.” It is considered chronic and persists for at least two years.

I have had this disorder for 17 years and counting. I have seen five mental health and medical professionals — every one of them confirmed this disorder, though I do not need medication. I was not born this way, but my experiences in my personal life have had a severe impact on my mental health.

While I have been mostly functional all these years, I have had suicidal episodes because I just could not take the pain. I’m writing this because I want to make a point about mental health and perhaps share a little about how you can better help a depressed loved one and hopefully, encourage people to get help to overcome their mental illness.

Here are my tips for supporting a loved one struggling with depression:

1. Always tell them you love or care for them.

This is so important because in our depressed state, we often feel unloved and alone. It may not truly register at times, but it doesn’t hurt to keep reminding them anyway.

2. Remind them you are, and will always be here for them.

Personally, I have had a lot of people I cared about leave me and I have become conditioned to think no one really cares and will always leave sooner or later. But when someone tells me they are here for me, it definitely still helps to know that at least for now, someone is here and cares.

3. Check in on them often.

Cement that claim by always checking in to see how they are doing often. A simple, “Hello, how are you feeling today? Want to grab some coffee/do something together?” helps more than you may realize.

4. Make a judgment-free space for them to be vulnerable.

This is because many of us struggling often fear the stigma and judgment. Having a space we could feel safe talking is a big step in helping us heal or at least begin to seek help.

5. Listen to them.

Truly listening to someone can help you understand them better. It helps you be more empathetic and could even give you better clues on how you can help them through their pain. Most of the time though, we just need someone to talk to. We aren’t expecting you to solve our problems, we just need to talk — verbalizing our pain and anxieties helps relieve the pain of bottling our feelings up.

6. Be physically present.

If a loved one does not want to talk or do anything, or he or she is in an inconsolable state, the best thing to do is just to be there. A simple hug can give so much relief to someone who is struggling with their thoughts. Oftentimes, we cannot understand why we feel this way at all and therefore, cannot even explain why we feel the way we feel which frustrates us and this turns into a vicious cycle. Having that physical comfort can help us feel as though there is someone there to help us hold our world together when we are feeling completely broken.

7. Remind them of their virtues and what you admire about them.

Many of us often sink into these deep, dark pits of despair feeling completely useless and unwanted. I can’t truly describe to you the pain of what it feels like to be completely disgusted by yourself and what you think are your own shortcomings. It is the embarrassment and feelings of utter loss and crushing loneliness that can make me wish I could just disappear.

8. Never compare their situation with something or someone else’s.

Many of us are extremely aware we may not have it the worse, but it does not mean we feel any less pain. Telling them their situation is “not so bad” will only add to guilt and pain. It is much better to tell a depressed loved one you believe they will get better, and will do what you can to be there and help them get through their situation.

9. Remember: depression is not a choice.

Always remember those who are depressed or have depression do not choose to be in this situation. No one likes feeling as though they can’t function or that the world would be better off without them. It is not something any one of us can control, and those of us who struggle with mental illness would do almost anything we can to escape from this pain.

10. Be patient with them and with yourself.

Depression is not something people can overcome overnight. It can take days, weeks, months or years. Caring for a loved one with depression can be extremely stressful and frustrating and could leave you feeling helpless. It is important to know when to take some time to also take care of yourself and make sure that you are calm and have enough mental strength to best support them.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via vanda_g.

Originally published: August 7, 2017
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