Helping someone you know with depression can be a challenging, yet significant thing to do. I think it’s selfless and admirable.
However, it’s common to feel confused and helpless if you’re not sure how to be there for them.
Certain people in my life admitted there were times they wanted to lend a hand but didn’t know how. Some were genuinely afraid of upsetting me more and others felt it was best to stay silent.
Staying silent won’t help you or your loved one though. More than likely, in your moments of silence is when they needed help the most.
If someone in your life is struggling with depression and you’re exploring ways to support them, I applaud your courage. With a few basic tips, I’m confident you’ll discover how to play an important role during their journey to recovery.
Here are some ways on how you can make a difference.
Just be there
Honestly, I found it comforting when someone was just there for me. It’s an indescribable feeling when people can just be present with me, especially when I’m going through an episode or having a hard time. I was able to find comfort when someone was sitting with me in silence or while I cried.
I didn’t feel too alone.
You can remind your loved one they’re not alone on this journey just by being present. It’s a little gesture with a big impact.
Listen with an open mind
Common mistake with humans in general is that we hear to respond, not to understand. It’s important to just listen to your loved one with an open mind and without judgment. People who battle with a mental illness often don’t want advice. They just want to feel heard and understood.
If you’re not sure where to start, you may benefit from the following ideas. I also want you to keep in mind that it’s not your job to try to “fix” them. Just be there and listen. Help create a safe space so they can freely express themselves by encouraging them to talk about what’s going on.
Let them know you’re there for them by starting a conversation and sharing any concerns you may have.
- Ask questions to understand rather than assume you know how they’re feeling. By asking questions, you’re showing your concern and your desire to learn
- Validate their feelings and show empathy
- Use body language to show you’re engaged (in-person or video chat)
Keep in mind: it’s possible they’ll reject your efforts at first, but don’t be discouraged. Be patient, gentle and persistent about it. Continue to let them know you care and your willingness to listen to them. Even if you’re not able to understand exactly how they feel, tell them you care and want to help.
If they're having difficulty opening up, I share some pointers in this post that may help them.
Help them find support & encourage them to stick with it
When I decided to go back to therapy, it was intimidating at first to research for one. Even though I knew therapy could help, I couldn’t find the courage to make the first appointment.
My boyfriend stepped in and gave me the encouragement I needed to make that call. Overtime he noticed things were getting worse for me and he was getting concerned. Although he believes my strength is admirable, I wasn’t going to get better with willpower alone.
It was a delicate thing for him to bring up, but it was necessary. His reassurance that he wants nothing but the best for me made the decision to call a new therapist easier.
If your friend or relative isn’t in therapy yet, you can help them find professional support.
- Talk to them about your concern and what you’ve been noticing
- Suggest they talk to their primary care doctor about their symptoms and/or for a referral to a mental health provider
- Offer to help them research mental health providers online or on apps
- Support them in setting up their first appointment
- Encourage them to write down things they want to mention in their first session
- If you’re comfortable doing so, accompany them to the first session and wait for them to be done
Another important thing that you can do is give your unconditional support during their treatment process.
I remember having some really bad days or even weeks and mentioning that I wanted to cancel therapy appointments to my bf or friends. Even though they knew my depression sucked the energy out of me from wanting to go, they also knew it could help me feel a lot better afterwards. Nevertheless, I’m so thankful they’ve always encouraged me to stick with it.
An excellent suggestion is to encourage different activities and even participate in them too (if you can). Make plans for you two (or a group of friends) to go to the movies, out to dinner, or something that’s uplifting. Exercising is especially useful, so maybe join a gym together, go on walks/runs, or participate in 30-day challenges to get them moving.
If appropriate, attend church or a religious setting together. Faith can play a vital role in someone’s mental health journey. It does for me. My friends will attend church with me, which was helpful during the times I didn’t want to leave the house.
Take good care of yourself
When you care and love for someone in general it’s enticing to drop everything and rush to their aid, especially if you commonly put others before yourself. However, caring for someone who lives with depression may take a heavier toll on you. It’s not wrong to help your loved ones, but it’s also necessary to make sure you’re taking good care of yourself too.
Think about it. If you insert all your efforts and energy into being there for your friend or relative, there’ll be little left in the tank for yourself—and if you’re low on fuel, feeling burned out, you won’t be much help to anyone else.
As much as my boyfriend cares for me and always wants to be supportive, he had to learn that on this journey it was important for him to take care of himself too. Seeing what I was going through was difficult for him and it involves a lot of emotions. It can be draining sometimes. Through trial and error, we not only learned what helps him, but helps me too.
Things to consider:
- Honest and open communication. If you’re feeling depleted or have too much on your plate, speak up for yourself. It’s important to discuss what you’re feeling than allow resentment to build up. Remaining silent may seem like a good idea at first, but those built-up emotions can come off in the wrong way and make things worse in the end.
- Set boundaries. The purpose of boundaries is not to shut your friend or relative out but to help create a healthy balance of being there for them and for yourself. Of course you want to be there for them as often as possible, but you can only do so much. Boundaries will avoid resentment and personal burnout on your end.
- Keep up with your own life. Try to keep up with your daily responsibilities and routines. You might have instances where you need to cancel plans or move your calendar around to be there for them and that’s okay, but it’s important to not make it a common thing. It’s important you still live your life and make yourself happy. As I said earlier, you gotta take care of yourself first before you can help others.
Lastly, I want to remind you to have realistic expectations because recovery from depression doesn’t happen overnight. Watching a relative or friend struggle with depression can be frustrating—but it’s important to remain patient, even when progress seems slow.
If you feel that your loved one’s mental health has become severe or potentially life-threatening, please contact a doctor or emergency medical services.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with someone who might find these tips helpful!