Living with a loved one who has depression- 10 ways to help

3 minutes Written by Omarpreet Kaur

It can be distressing to see your loved ones go through the battle of depression.

Constantly having to cope with the stress that comes with making adjustments to help your loved ones move through depression may be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Despite doing all that you can to support them, you may still feel that it is not enough or it is not producing desirable results.

I’ve mostly observed that while family members may be ready and willing to support a loved one suffering from a mental health condition, they may be at a loss at how to effectively do so. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that may help you channel that support in the right direction:

The DOs of helping

  1. Talk about your concern about the changes that you are noticing in them and why you think they need help (refer to previous posts to know about the signs and symptoms of depression)
  2. Acknowledge that depression or anxiety is a mental health condition that needs appropriate treatment just like any other medical condition would need. Encourage seeking treatment.
  3. Offer to help by helping schedule appointments with a psychotherapist/psychiatrist. With the advent of physical distancing, it is still possible to get required mental health services through teletherapy. Contact your insurance provider to get appropriate teletherapy referrals.
  4. When support networks of family and friends become a part of the therapy sessions, it leads to more concrete and comparatively faster progress with treatment goals. Offer to be a part of the therapy sessions.
  5. Encourage them to engage in self-care (going for a walk, reading, taking a shower, wearing clean clothes, eating nutritious food, listening to music, etc.)
  6. If you suspect suicidal tendencies (verbalizations, intentions, plans), take immediate action by letting close family/friends know, contacting the PCP, calling 9-1-1 (if they are in immediate danger or a crisis situation), and removing access to things that could be used for self-harm (firearms, razors, knives, harmful chemicals, prescription and OTC pills, etc.)
  7. Keep a suicide hotline number handy- e.g the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1-800-273-TALK
  8. Be willing to listen
  9. Give positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors (e.g. trying to engage in self-care by taking a shower)
  10. Practice patience – Depression and anxiety will not vanish or disappear once you start giving support. Be prepared to see improvement and regression – all within a day, weeks, or months.

The DONT’S of helping

  1. DO NOT ignore suicidal signs or self-harm signs
  2. DO NOT label symptoms of depression or verbalizations of self-harm as attention seeking behaviors
  3. DO NOT expect them to “get over it” . They would if they could!
  4. DO NOT judge – e.g. avoid using phrases like “that’s just how you are thinking. It’s really not that bad”. This communicates to your loved one that they have a choice in how they are feeling and they are choosing to look at the darker side of things.
  5. DO NOT belittle their emotional pain – Depression is not a flaw in personality and is not a sign of being weak. Invalidating the struggle of dealing with a serious mental health diagnosis can make them feel unsupported and misunderstood and will only serve to exacerbate the condition.

Finally, mental health conditions are severely underrated and need appropriate and adequate help, support and treatment. Agree and commit to being there and validating the struggle of your loved one. It will make a difference!

Avatar Omarpreet Kaur

Written by Omarpreet Kaur

Omarpreet Kaur is a therapist in Pennsylvania who specializes in couples, family, group and individual therapy.