Depression is incredibly common in the United States. Over the course of a year, almost seven percent of the adult population experiences at least one major depressive episode. Further, almost a third of those with depression are also suffering from an anxiety disorder.
However, for those living with negative feelings that could be symptoms of depression, it can sometimes be hard to delineate between sadness and depression. It’s often easy to rationalize depressive feelings or assume they will go away soon. This can make it challenging to determine whether to get help.
While depression symptoms can sometimes go away on their own because of a change in circumstances—a new job, the end of an illness, new friends or hobbies—this is not universally true. Sometimes, depression has a tighter hold that cannot be overcome by willpower alone, and that can signal a need for professional help.
As with other mental illnesses, too, it’s not always easy to get someone with a depressive disorder to see that intervention is necessary. Here are some tips for how to support someone who is depressed and help them choose treatment.
Process the Situation Rationally
Before coming to any determinations or creating any plans for how to help someone with depression, it is important to process the situation rationally. Evaluate the situation, including the signs and symptoms. Look for changes in behavior and actions that don’t align with normal responses, like pulling away from favorite hobbies and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
In doing so, try to avoid the temptation to read too much into every facet of a person’s life. Withdrawal, sadness, a negative outlook, inattention to grooming, and frustration can be signs that someone is depressed—but that’s not the only possibility. Periods of great stress, like losing a job or ending a relationship, can result in depression, but expressing anxiety or grief can be a natural response and not indicative of a mental health issue.
Education is an important part of understanding depression, so the more research, the better. Start with academic websites that provide balanced, unbiased information about depression rather than sites designed for everyday users. Consider medical journals and research studies as well, to keep up to date on evolutions in treatment. It may also be beneficial to review content about different kinds of depressions, the way symptoms can differ, and how to best approach treatment.
If possible, speak with professionals working in the mental health space. Their insights may provide more understanding of the situation on a more personal level and guidance about how to proceed. Therapists and counselors can also advise on treatment options.
Knowing how to support someone with depression isn’t always easy, but in the most basic sense, it is about determining needs and responding appropriately. Listening, talking, and spending time with someone can be excellent ways to provide support, even during periods of depression. This can include promoting wellness when possible, like getting outside for a walk together, or offering a listening ear on particularly bad days.
Support can be managed in multiple ways and is often circumstantial. When in doubt, simply asking what someone needs can be helpful. It’s also best to acknowledge that sometimes, leaving someone alone can be necessary support. Those with depression may have minimal energy for social engagements, so sometimes, dropping off a nice token, like a favorite treat or a sweet card, can be enough to remind someone they are cared for, without too much pressure.
Resist the Urge to Use Guilt
When someone is resistant to getting help, resorting to guilt tactics may be tempting. Telling someone that getting help is what they need to preserve a relationship, keep a job, or be a better person—and if things fall apart, they have only themselves to blame—may sound persuasive in theory. However, in practice, this rarely works.
Those who are depressed may be apathetic, angry, frustrated, or sad. Using guilt isn’t going to alleviate these feelings, and may instead worsen them. Reminding someone that they have failed and will continue to fail, or that they’re going to fail if certain actions are not taken, is unlikely to inspire change when mental health plays a role. Be supportive and encourage healthy behavior but avoid guilt trips.
Keep Communication Channels Open
When offering help to a loved one with depression, keep communication channels open. A sounding board can be very helpful when experiencing a major depressive episode, and someone to talk to can make coping much easier. Feeling less alone can be very important when living with depression.
Keeping lines of communication open can also be important in encouraging someone to seek help. If you have been a part of someone’s journey with depression from the start, it is much easier to be the voice of reason when needed. There is no guarantee that talking regularly will make someone living with depression more likely to enter a treatment program, see a counselor, or consider medication if needed, but if they choose to reach out, it is much easier to provide support and guidance.
Intervene When Necessary
While some people living with depression will seek treatment on their own, others may choose to live in denial or believe they are beyond help. In these cases, a helping hand may be able to steer them toward much-needed treatment and remission of symptoms.
If depression seems to be worsening or there is concern over a loved one’s life, intervention may be urgently necessary. This is especially true if a depressive episode results in things like career loss, the end of a relationship, or suicidal ideations. When life is on the line, it is never too soon to speak up and speak out. Intervening can involve expressing concerns personally, gathering other friends and loved ones to present a unified front, or involving professionals as appropriate. Overcoming depression usually means getting help, so if the time is right to intervene, be prepared to provide options and opportunities.
Living with someone with depression can be very challenging, but providing support and help is paramount. This can include researching depression and how it manifests, taking an objective look at the situation, promoting open communication, and intervening when necessary.
For times when professional assistance is the best way to proceed, FHE Health is here to provide compassionate care and a trusted path toward healing and recovery. Contact us today to learn more about treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.