Updated: May 11
Do you have a loved one who is suffering from depression? Are you at a loss as to how you can support them?
Many people have asked me how they can help a loved one who is suffering from depression.
It can be very difficult to know what to say or do in this situation at times. Supporting someone who is depressed can be extremely stressful, tiring, confusing, frustrating and downright exhausting. My hope is that these tips will help you as you navigate through the rocky waters of loving someone who is depressed. Aside from research I have done on this topic, I am also speaking from a place of experience where I was on the receiving end of being helped through a few major depressive episodes. I want you to know that every bit of your love and support is appreciated to those that you are trying to help! You may not feel this appreciation right now or wonder if anything you do is helpful but I can assure you that it is! Thank you for all that you do!
Now, let’s look at some tips that can help you stay strong and help your loved one have a better chance of healing from their depression.
1. Unconditional Love
Someone who is struggling with depression can feel a great deal of shame about how they are feeling and acting. Their once “happier self “ is gone at the moment and they are not easy to be around which many of them know. This naturally leads them to feel that they are a burden to everyone around them.
When I suffered terribly with depression, I felt like a burden not only to my family but my friends, my pastor and even my kid’s teachers at school as they had to do more for my kids to support them because of me. The hardest thing was not being able to do what I was normally used to doing because I didn’t have the energy or the drive. I felt so useless at times. I needed to know more than ever that I was loved unconditionally even when I was a mess, laying on a couch with next to nothing to give.
It can take everything in us to not want to “fix the problem” we think our depressed loved one has or come up with a list of solutions for them, however this is absolutely overwhelming for them and not helpful at all. The best thing is to listen as much as possible and allow them to share anything they feel safe enough to share. This in itself can help them immensely as they are able to relieve the pressure of what is swirling around in their head. Depression causes a person to have nagging, uncontrollable, negative thoughts that are often lies!
It is important to affirm your loved one in how they’re feeling by saying something like “I’m so sorry you are feeling this way”. After you have done this, you can begin to speak truth to offset any lies they are believing at the moment such as “I’m such a loser”, “I’ll never get better” or “I’m so useless”. You may have to do this over and over again for a time but it helps your loved one know that you have heard them and that they are not alone in their thoughts.
You may need to encourage your loved one in different ways depending on the severity of their depression but it is so important. Depression is telling them that they will never feel better and that there is no hope. They need to know that this is not true, they WILL feel better eventually and the way they feel today is not how they are going to feel forever. They may need to hear this every single day for a while until things do get better.
It’s also important to let them know of any progress you see especially if they feel they’ve had a setback. Remind them of the good days they had last week or comment on how they “seem to have more energy” or how you’ve noticed they “are eating more”. These small comments can speak so much hope into their weary souls.
4. Offer Resources
There are so many amazing resources out there but the question is: which ones do you suggest? I would say that it depends on the severity of your loved one’s depression. If it is severe, they are not going to be able to retain much information so reading books or even articles are out of the question. Going to counselling may not even be an option if the depression is too severe because again they will not be able to retain the information. I feel that a doctor’s visit is one of the first steps that should be taken for someone who has struggled with depression for more than 2 weeks straight. You can be an advocate and book the appointment for them if they are not able and then offer to go with them to the appointment. If they are given medication, after a number of weeks they should be feeling a little better. This is the time to book an appointment with a counsellor ,psychologist or mental health coach.
If the depression is less severe, there are many amazing books, articles, blogs and websites that a person can read to help them understand what they are going through and encourage them in feeling better. I found that in my own depressive episode, once I educated myself on depression and its possible causes, I felt some relief as I was finally able to stop blaming myself for it and start focusing on treatment. Other resources could include the name of a counsellor or a support group in the area. There are many options out there!
5. Self- Care
It is a very difficult task to watch someone you love suffer with depression. You want so desperately to relieve them of their pain and yet you can’t. You play an important role, that’s for sure but it really is up to the depressed person to receive the help that is offered and it is a process- sometimes a long one. For you as the caregiver, it is so important that you take good care of yourself through this process. Many caregivers go to counsellors to get help for themselves so they can have the strength to continue supporting a depressed person. Also, try to have good boundaries! This may mean having times where you are not always available to the depressed person. Of course this can be very difficult if the person is your child but in this case, I would suggest leaning on others to take over some of the load. Take time for yourself whether that is through doing a hobby you love, getting your hair done or just turning off your phone and watching a movie. Eat well, get your sleep and exercise! Your body needs this in order to stay healthy and strong physically but also emotionally. You can’t give to someone else when your emotional tank is empty so try and keep that tank full as much as possible!
6. Educate Yourself
There’s no better way to understand what a depressed person is experiencing than getting educated on it. There are many resources available online that explain what depression feels like, what the symptoms are, the different types and how it can be treated. One resource I recommend is a book that I have written about my own personal journey of suffering with major depression and anxiety and how I recovered fully from it. The book is called “Hope for the Hopeless- Freedom from Anxiety and Depression is Possible”. You can check it out here: https://www.amazon.ca/Hope-Hopeless-Freedom-Depression-Possible/dp/1090227833/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=hope+for+the+hopeless&qid=1617981969&sr=8-1
7. Lower Expectations
A depressed person is not capable of doing all the things they used to do when they felt well so it’s important to lower your expectations of them. Depending on the severity of their depression, they may not have the energy or mind set to be able to do things like long workouts, house cleaning, working at a job, and even taking a shower for some. Everything feels like a chore when you are depressed! Being able to accomplish one or two small things in the entire day can be the norm. However, it should not be the norm so treatment definitely needs to be encouraged.
I hope that you have gained some ideas on how you can support a loved one suffering with their mood. Depression can be beaten but it takes alot of support from others to make it through. Once again, you may not feel that your efforts are being appreciated but I can tell you from experience that they are and someday down the road you will see the fruit of your labour so please hang in there and keep on loving those who need it in the best way you can!