How Can I Help a Friend or Loved One With Depression?

Written by Modern Recovery Editorial Team

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If you are concerned about the way a friend or a loved one could be feeling right now, you are in an excellent position to be of help. Obviously, you care about them, and you know the person well.

By following our practical advice provided here, not only will you be able to initially approach them and talk to them about their feelings, and their problems, but you can be a real help to their future progress, too.

1. The Approach

It can be difficult to begin a conversation with a friend or loved one about their feelings, their emotions, and what is going on in their life. 

In fact, how you actually approach the subject with them is very important. It is worth taking a little time to think about how you could do this.

Remember, the idea behind approaching your friend or loved one and raising the subject (and the conversation that hopefully follows) is to find out exactly how they’re feeling, to listen to what they have to say to listen with empathy, and then to encourage them to get a clinical evaluation.

When you do approach them, you need to actively listen to what they have to say. Active listening is actually a learned skill that you can practice. Good active listeners will:

  • Give their complete attention to the person who is talking, and ignore everything else
  • Ask open-ended questions to get more details, and
  • Take moments throughout the conversation to summarize what they have been told to make sure and show they are understanding clearly

Here are a few ideas on how best to make your initial approach to your friend or loved one so you can the conversation with them:

  • Find a quiet time to talk, with no distractions
  • Let the person know how much you and others care about them
  • In an empathetic way, ask them about their feelings right now
  • Listen with empathy to what they say
  • Let them know you have seen changes in their behavior that worry you, and talk about how these changes have affected you and, perhaps, other people in their life
  • Suggest how they could get professional help by, firstly, simply speaking to their doctor about their feelings
  • Let them know you will fully support them today and in the future

Conversation About Mental Health

2. The Conversation

It is really important that you listen actively to what is said to you, and that you communicate effectively with your friend or loved one. This involves using the right language, asking open-ended questions, and explaining your concerns clearly.

Take a look at the following example statements below, taken from the Mental Health America (MHA) worksheet – “Starting a Conversation,” and which forms part of their May is Mental Health Month” Toolkit 2022. These are perfect for correctly phrasing what you want to say:

1. The Conversation: Example Statements You Can Use

For the past (day/week/month/year/_____________________), it seems like you have been feeling (sad/angry/anxious/moody//lonely/hopeless/overwhelmed/confused/stressed/unable to function/_____________________). 
You seem to be struggling with your (break-up/divorce/job loss/recent health diagnosis/relationship/finances/ _____________________).
I would like to help you (talk to a doctor or therapist or guidance counselor/figure out what to do/talk about this more/find a support group/_____________________). What can I do to help?

2. The Conversation: Open-Ended Questions You Can Use

  • What do you think is the problem?
  • What are the things in your life that are causing problems for you?
  • How does this problem typically make you feel?
  • Do you feel sad, mad, hopeless, stuck, angry or something else?
  • What else do you feel? Tell me more.
  • What makes you feel better?
  • What have other people close to you told you about your moods?

Helping A Loved One Mental Health

3. What You Definitely Should Not Say

People with any form of depression or any other mood disorder are suffering from a diagnosable medical condition. It is not because they are weak in character or in any other way.

It is vital that you do not say or even imply anything like this during your conversation.

Furthermore, do not say phrases such as “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together.” These simply dismiss their feelings totally, and they will likely only make matters worse. 

Although you can listen to and accept any negative views they may express to you during the conversation, do not agree with them. These negative thoughts are just one of the symptoms of depression

The more you continue to present a realistic picture of life, such as by expressing hope, by saying that the situation will get better, and telling them that treatment really does work, the better for your loved one or friend.

4. The Importance of Treatment

It is vital that you emphasize the importance of getting treatment, especially as the condition is unlikely to resolve itself. Encourage your loved one or friend to initially see their doctor, with the aim of getting a clinical evaluation.

People often feel quite relieved to learn that they are suffering from a medical condition – that there is a reason why they feel so down all of the time.

You can offer to make an appointment with the doctor on their behalf, and go with them to provide continued support and encouragement.

Alternatively, they could complete an online mental health screening; for example, Mental Health America has a range of qualified screening tools, such as their Depression Screening Test. Your loved one might find this less intrusive.

Mental Health Alone

5. What to Do If Your Help is Refused

It’s not uncommon for someone with a mental health disorder to simply refuse any help offered to them. However, do not feel too discouraged by their refusal.

People who are depressed can reject offers of help because they feel they should be helping themselves. They might withdraw or start an argument with you to avoid talking about the issue.

You need to remember that people with depression have a range of negative thoughts, and they might not even see recovery as a viable outcome to their situation.

Although your offer of help has been refused (this time), there are still some things you can do to remain proactive:

  • Provide consistent support
  • Discuss your feelings, and how much you care about your loved one 
  • Focus on their behaviors, and how treatment can help with these
  • Over time, try and get them to agree on some form of professional help, even if it’s just chatting with the doctor
  • Get help yourself by asking others to help you and back you, eg. other family members, friends, and others who can also talk to the person

What is Depression?

Depression is a common, yet serious medical illness, with a highly negative impact on your daily life. The disorder can affect all of your basic mental functions – your feelings, your thoughts, and your actions.

Unless it is treated, depression will continue to result in a variety of emotional and physical problems for the sufferer, such as decreasing the ability to function normally at home and at work.

Signs and symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe; these can include:

Depression: Signs & Symptoms

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite, and weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
Source: American Psychiatry Association (APA)

Types of Depression / Depressive Disorders

Diagnosable depression can manifest itself as one of a range of the following clinical depressive disorders, which are:

  • Major Depressive Disorder

    • Major depressive disorder (often termed as either clinical depression or major depression, and abbreviated to MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those aged 15 to 44 years of age. 
    • MDD affects more than 17 million adults in the U.S., or about 6.9% of the adult population (aged 18 and older), and is the most common form of depression.
    • While MDD can develop at any age, the average age of onset is around 32 years old. Additionally, like many disorders, it is more prevalent in women than in men.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder 

    • Persistent depressive disorder (previously known as dysthymia, and abbreviated to PDD) is a long-term form of depression, affecting around 1.5% of U.S. adults, or about 3.3 million adults. The main characteristic of this disorder is a depressed mood that persists for most of the day, most days, for a minimum of 2 years.
    • For diagnosis, during the 2-year period, any symptom-free intervals can last no longer than 2 months. 
    • The symptoms are considered not as severe as those of major depression. MDD can be present prior to PDD, and episodes of MDD can also occur during PDD.
  • Peripartum Depression

    • Peripartum depression (which includes postpartum depression) affects up to 1 in 7 women, and is associated with significant maternal and neonatal issues, if left untreated. A history of depression is the strongest risk factor for developing peripartum depression. 
    • Peripartum depression” refers to a major depressive episode that occurs during pregnancy or within 4 weeks following delivery.
    • Postpartum depression” refers to an episode of major depression that begins within the first 4 weeks after delivery.
  • Seasonal Depression

    • Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder, and often abbreviated to SAD) causes symptoms like a normal depressive disorder, but usually during the fall and winter months – when there is less sunlight.
    • Like MDD, the symptoms can be overwhelming, and can interfere with daily functioning. Around 5% of adults in the U.S. experience SAD, and it is more common among women than men.
    • SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain, prompted by the shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. 
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

    • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (or PMDD) is a far more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Lifestyle changes and sometimes medicines can help manage symptoms.
    • Its exact cause is still not known. Medical experts believe PMDD could be an abnormal reaction to normal hormone changes that happen during a menstrual cycle, causing a serotonin deficiency
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (or DMDD), a relatively new disorder, is a childhood form of depression which presents as irritability, anger, and frequent temper outbursts.

Fortunately, however, all of these variations of depression can be treated successfully, and it is extremely important that those with one of these depressive disorders are fully aware that this is the case – treatment works, and they will feel far, far better after treatment

Modern Recovery: Adult Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Depression is a real medical illness, and professional help and treatment are available. With a proper clinical diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it and recover. 

Modern Recovery can help you or your loved one. We offer an online Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for adults suffering from mental health or behavioral disorders.

Our online IOP is an excellent option for anyone who has recently completed an inpatient or partial hospitalization program (PHP) but needs additional support to maintain long-term recovery.

Contact us today and continue to work towards a better and happier life – a life you deserve, and life completely free from depression.

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