7 Ways to Support Someone with Severe Depression
If you know someone who suffers from severe depression, then you understand how difficult it can be to know what to say or do to try and support that person. It’s a situation that can really get you feeling helpless! It’s hard to know what will be helpful or even to understand what the person is experiencing. Often, the person with depression will push you away.
It may help to know a little bit about depression.
What Does Depression Look Like
The experience of depression is very individual and is different for everyone experiencing it. However, some of the hallmarks of depression are a depressed mood which often will lead to not wanting to participate in normal and usual activities, decreased energy, poor sleep, and pulling back from friends and family. People with depression also tend to experience a lot more negative self-talk and self-criticism than usual. You can see how this can affect a person’s daily life and relationships!
Symptoms of Depression
Feeling sadness, depressed, emptiness
Irritability, anger outbursts
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that normally bring happiness
Changes in sleep- either in insomnia or sleeping excessively
Lack of energy, feeling tired
Changes in appetite- either lack of or excessive
Thinking and/or speech seems slowed
Don’t forget that depression will look different with different people and that these symptoms will express themselves in different ways.
Tips for Helping
Here are some general tips to help you support a loved one with depression:
1. Start a conversation. You don’t have to be a therapist, just a friend (or a sister, parent, teacher, etc), but open a conversation. Be curious. Ask questions to better learn what they’re going through. Let the person know what you’ve been noticing and ask them what’s been going on. Then be sure to LISTEN to what they’re saying. You don’t have to fix their problem- that isn’t your responsibility! You are there to support the depressed person, and that is all. Trust that being supportive is enough!
An important thing to remember is that you don’t want to suggest in any way that the person feeling depressed shouldn’t feel depressed or that they don’t have any
reason to feel depressed. That their depression isn’t legitimate. Saying things like, “But you have so many wonderful things in your life” or “But your family loves you so much” is not helpful. These types of statements tell the person that what they’re feeling isn’t legitimate and can bring out feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and hesitancy to seek any help or to share what they’re going through with anyone going forward.
2. Support the person in seeking out professional help. Depression is very treatable and there is lots of hope for feeling better. The stigma of mental illness or of seeking mental health care is still very much present! This can cause people to feel shameful about being depressed or needing help and may cause people not to seek help.
Talking about treatment options can be helpful, but you also can provide really concrete, practical assistance such as helping the person do an internet search to find a therapist, helping them to schedule an appointment, reminding them of the appointment, or offering to drive them to the appointment. Don’t forget that depression can decrease your motivation and your ability to think clearly which would interfere with the ability to complete these sorts of tasks.
3. Give a friend a hand. Speaking of giving practical help, it would really be appreciated if you were able to give your friend some practical help with everyday tasks. Don’t just offer to help- if your loved one is having trouble organizing themselves or is low in energy, then this type of vague offer can feel like more work to them and chances are they won’t take you up on your offer. So instead, ask them to take their kids for the afternoon, pick up dinner, do the laundry, or go on a walk with them. A word of caution, however, try not to overwhelm the person with social activity. Remember that depression will often cause a person to withdraw from others and socializing may cause the person stress which would be counterproductive.
4. Encourage the person to take care of themselves and engage in self-care activities. It’s important that the depressed person eat right, get a good night's sleep, get some fresh air, and exercise regularly. Again, providing practical help can really improve the person’s ability to do these things. So send a gift card for free Uber Eats, drop off a meal, or take them to the park with your dog (or child).
5. If the person is religious, encourage them to stay engaged. Maybe go to a service with them or encourage them to talk with their clergy person. Spiritual beliefs and rituals can be helpful to the person coping with depression.
6. Keep an eye out for the depression worsening. If you become afraid your loved one will become worse and might be suicidal, please don’t be afraid to address this directly with them. Gently ask if they feel like they don’t want to be here anymore. Your asking about suicidal ideation does not cause the person to become suicidal. There are several things to watch for including:
The person saying things like “You don’t really need me here”, “You’d be better off without me”, “I wish I were dead”, or “I wish I had never been born”.
The person is hoarding their medications.
The person is giving away their belongings or writing a last will.
The person is telling the people around them “goodbye” and withdrawing from others even more.
The person buying a gun or other means of harming themselves.
7. If you think the person has become suicidal, here are some things to do:
Remove any guns or other weapons from the home or from where the person can find them to make the home safe.
Strongly encourage the person to see their therapist, doctor, or other professional and talk about what they’re experiencing.
Offer to go with them to their appointment for support.
Call or text 988 or another suicide prevention line for advice on what to do next
I hope that this is helpful and gives you some ideas for coping with a loved one who is experiencing depression. If you would like more information on this very important topic, or on depression treatment, please follow the link!