How to Support a Loved One Struggling with Depression

Woman Holding Her Hands On Her Husband'S Shoulders And Trying To Support A Loved One Struggling With Depression
How to Support a Loved One Struggling with Depression

The term “depression” is frequently used today to refer to fleeting feelings of melancholy, sadness, or disappointment. But it’s a far more complicated and pervasive problem, affecting millions globally. In fact, it’s one of the most common mental illnesses, with an estimated 5% of adults worldwide suffering from it, according to the World Health Organization. This illness, which affects more women than men, can cause serious problems, including an increased risk of suicide. Knowing this makes learning how to support a loved one struggling with depression that much more important.

Understanding Depression

The term “depression” describes a profound and enduring sense of sadness and a loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities. It’s a condition that can severely impact one’s ability to function and carry out even the simplest everyday tasks. Unfortunately, it’s not merely a bad day or a passing feeling.

Depression is known to be complicated, and medical professionals have spent decades studying it, focusing on its biological, psychological, and social aspects. Since depression was first recognized as a separate medical disorder in the early 20th century, a great deal of research has been done on the issue. Now, we have a wealth of knowledge of its causes, symptoms, and available therapies. And the best part is that that knowledge is only expanding and getting more thorough with each new research. 

Recognize the Signs of Depression

Sometimes, your loved one might be struggling without even knowing it, especially if they’re in one of the less-expressive stages of depression. That’s why you should know how to recognize the signs of this condition as early as possible. Recognizing the symptoms early can make a significant difference in managing or helping a loved one manage the stages of depression, from initial denial and numbness to eventual acceptance and recovery.

Here are the most common signs you should keep an eye out for:

  • Persistent sadness, tearfulness, or feelings of emptiness
  • Irritability or frustration over seemingly minor issues
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy make even small tasks difficult
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

These symptoms need to be taken seriously. They can significantly affect the quality of life of the person affected and lead to considerable issues in daily activities, work or school, and relationships. Therefore, if you notice that your loved one is showing any of these signs, it’s time to have an honest talk.

Communicate Effectively and Compassionately 

Approaching your loved one with a topic as sensitive as this one, especially in an age where mental health is still stigmatized, can be very challenging. However, the right approach can make all the difference. Start by expressing your concerns openly and honestly without making assumptions about your feelings. Say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been feeling down,” rather than immediately giving them a diagnosis. This can help open your conversation without making them feel confined or labeled.

To successfully support a loved one struggling with depression, it’s vital to listen more than you speak. Let them express their emotions without worrying about being judged. The mere knowledge that someone is there to listen may sometimes be immensely encouraging. Encourage them to share their feelings while respecting their boundaries, as doing the opposite can make them close down. Remember, they might not always want to talk, and pressuring them too much can only backfire. 

Encourage Professional Help

Supporting someone means being there for them without attempting to solve their problems. Therefore, encouraging professional help is a perfect solution. However, given the nature of this conversation, this can be difficult, so you’ll need to arm yourself with patience, understanding, and sensitivity. To begin with, listen to them without judging. That’s the only way to understand their experiences and hardships.

Also, make sure they know and truly understand that asking for assistance is a show of strength rather than weakness. Explain how receiving expert help can provide them with techniques for managing their illness and improving their daily lives. You can also research success stories, real-life accounts, and even different therapy options to motivate them further. For example, you might discover that many people find CBT techniques useful, so you can suggest that your loved one give them a try.

However, always keep in mind that your loved one has the final say and that it’s ultimately their decision whether or not to seek professional help. So don’t pressure them. Your role is to be there, support them, and encourage them along the way.

Practical Ways to Support a Loved One Struggling with Depression

Beyond emotional support, there are many practical ways you can support a loved one struggling with depression. Here are some examples:

  • Encourage routines that promote well-being, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet. To make this experience easier for them, join in.
  • Assist them with everyday tasks that they might find overwhelming.
  • Introduce the benefits of meditation for depression. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to reduce symptoms by enhancing mood, decreasing stress, and promoting overall mental health​. 

Keep in mind that the support you offer should be consistent and non-intrusive. Always respect their need for space and independence while ensuring they know you are there for them.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

As supporting someone with depression can be demanding, it’s easy to get caught up and forget about yourself in the process. However, to be a successful supporter, you must think of your well-being and take time to take care of yourself. To avoid burnout, establish boundaries and, if necessary, reach out to your support network or seek professional help.

Also, maintaining your interests, exercising, and engaging in self-care routines are crucial for your overall well-being. Understand that while you play a significant role in your loved one’s support system, their journey to recovery is still their own. You still need to put yourself first, and it’s okay to seek help for yourself, especially if it all feels overwhelming.

Step Forward Together

Trying to support a loved one struggling with depression is a process filled with compassion and strength. It isn’t easy, but it is also a fulfilling experience that improves everyone’s life. Keep in mind that your assistance not only promotes their recovery but also deepens your relationship. It’s your shared journey towards healing and resilience. So remain hopeful and strong at every turn, knowing that you can work through the difficulties of depression and arrive at a more positive place.