What to Do When a Loved One is Struggling With Depression

 When faced with a friend or family member who you suspect or know is struggling with depression, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Depression is a serious mental health problem that affects every aspect of someone’s life, and if someone you love is struggling it can feel like you don’t have any way to help them. Common signs of depression include losing interest in formerly loved activities and withdrawing from loved ones, so it’s likely that your friend or family member won’t make it easy for you to help them. Fortunately, there are ways that you can help. Here are some of the things you can do when a loved one is struggling with depression.

1: Talk About Your Concerns With Your Loved One

If you’ve noticed that your friend or family member has been withdrawing from friends or activities or showing other signs of depression, the first step in helping them is to calmly and non judgmentally share your concerns with them. By sharing the changes you’ve seen in them and your concerns, you will create an opening for them to share what they’re feeling. 

Be careful to avoid well-meaning platitudes - not mentioning how many good things they have in their life or how worse others have it is important. Many people with depression already feel as though their mental health struggles are a failing or a sign of weakness, and reinforcing those thoughts can stand in the way of effective treatment.

2: Help Organize Professional Treatment

When your loved one is struggling with depression, they may need help and encouragement when it comes to getting professional help. They may need your support because they feel shame at needing to seek treatment or because their depression gets in the way of everyday tasks such as scheduling an appointment. Offer your support in whatever capacity they need it - whether that be in sending them a text to remind them of when their appointment is scheduled or accompanying them to the appointment to support them in the waiting room. 

If they’re hesitant about seeking professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist, encourage them to see their primary care doctor instead - while a general physician won’t have the precise expertise necessary to help them, if they’re already comfortable with their doctor they will likely be more willing to listen to them and trust their recommendations.

3: Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Substance Abuse

Depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand. People struggling with depression will often turn to various substances, such as alcohol or marijuana, in order to cope with day-to-day life when it comes to living with depression. But these substances, when abused, will make their depression worse, leading to mental health spirals that cause them to reach for the substance more and more. Keeping an eye out for common signs of substance abuse, such as changes to their regular drinking habits or sudden mood swings, will allow you to better support your friend or family member who is struggling with depression.

4: Support Their Day-to-Day Routine

While treatment goes a long way to helping someone who is struggling with depression, it isn’t an instant fix, and your loved one will need care and support in the meantime. The casual offer to help in aspects of their day-to-day routine will go a long way - you will show your support, remind them that they’re not alone as they begin treatment for depression, and allow them to concentrate on effective treatment. 

This can range from offering to do tasks that they may find overwhelming, such as grocery shopping or laundry, to extending invitations to activities (especially in a smaller group setting). While it’s important not to become overbearing or condescending, the occasional invitation to work out together or meet up with a few friends for a cup of coffee can go a long way.

5: Be Prepared for the Long Haul

Depression isn’t something that can be fixed or made to go away. It’s a chronic illness, with symptoms that will flare up periodically and peaks and valleys. Some people with depression are able to reach an equilibrium, but many will struggle with this disease for the rest of their lives. Relapses and cycles of “good days” and “bad days” are common, especially when your loved one has only just begun treatment. Understanding the nature of depression and being prepared for the nature of it is important. If you’re struggling to support a loved one with depression, seeking out personal therapy is important so that you can take care of yourself and those around you.

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