If your loved one is struggling with depression and you’d like to offer help, the good news is that your support and encouragement can play an important role in the recovery of a depressed friend or family member.
But before approaching your loved one, it’s important to gain a better understanding of depression. Here are 4 things you should never do.
- Don’t underestimate depression. Depression is a serious condition. It’s not simply being sad or experiencing mood swings. Your loved one won’t just ‘snap out of it’ over time.
- Don’t take depression personally. It’s difficult for a depressed person to connect on a deep and emotional level with others, even the people he or she loves most. Often times, a person suffering from depression can say hurtful things or lash out in anger. Remember that this isn’t your loved one, but the depression talking so try not to take it personally.
- Don’t be an enabler. Hiding depression won’t make it go away. Don’t make up excuses, try to cover up the problem or lie for your friend or family member who is depressed. By enabling them you could be keeping them from seeking treatment.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ someone else’s depression. It’s not up to you to rescue your loved one from depression. The problem is not for you to fix, nor can you fix it. You’re also not to blame for the depression and you’re not responsible for your loved one’s happiness or lack thereof.
Once you’re ready to talk to your loved one, how exactly should you go about it? It’s hard to know the right thing to say when speaking about depression. Fears that you might anger the person or insult them are understandable. Or you may be unsure about what kinds of questions to ask and how to be supportive. If you don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions that may help.
Ways to start a conversation:
- I’ve been feeling concerned about you lately.
- Recently, I’ve noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
- I wanted to check in with you because you seem pretty down lately.
Follow-up questions you can ask:
- When did you start feeling like this?
- Did something happen that made you feel this way?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
You can also say this:
- You’re not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- Tell me what I can do now to help you.
But don’t say this:
- It’s all in your head…
- We all go through times like this…
- Look on the bright side…
- Just snap out of it…
- What’s wrong with you?
- Shouldn’t you be better by now?
- You have so much to live for, why do you want to die?
When in doubt, just remember that being supportive means offering encouragement and hope. Talk to your loved one in a language that he or she will understand and respond to while in a depressed frame of mind.
And at the end of the day, keep in mind that being a compassionate listener is much more important than giving advice. Encourage your loved one to talk about his or her feelings and be willing to listen without judgment. But don’t expect to be able to solve his or her problems with a single conversation. Depressed people tend to withdraw and isolate themselves from others. You may need to express your concern and willingness to listen over and over again before they open up. But don’t give up – be gentle, yet persistent and eventually your loved one will come around.
Last but not least, never forget that your role is to offer support, NOT fix the problem. This means encouraging your loved one to seek professional help when needed.