How to Help Someone With Depression

Women comforting each other

fizkes / Getty Images 

If someone you love has depression, you may wonder how you can help. If you live with someone who is depressed, you may experience a range of difficult feelings of your own, such as worry, disappointment, and anger.

If you live with someone who is depressed and see their day-to-day life, you may be confused and even afraid at times. If you have never been depressed yourself, you might have a hard time imaging what it feels like. You may not know much about the causes of depression, how it's diagnosed, or what treatment options are available.

There are many steps you can take to educate yourself about your loved one's experience with depression, but you also need to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing.

Here are a few things you can do to help someone you love who has depression.

10 Ways to Help Someone With Depression

While every person's experience with depression is unique (as is the experience of supporting someone who is depressed) here are a few ideas to start with.

Take Care of Yourself

You won't be able to support someone else if you are feeling overwhelmed and depleted yourself. Periodically take some time to step back from the situation and recharge your batteries.

While you can't "catch" depression the way you would a cold or the flu, the shared genetic and environmental influences may make it more likely that people who live together or are members of the same family will become depressed.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Depression can be demanding both for the person experiencing it and those who are caring about them. Remember that your feelings are a valid response to what can be, at times, a challenging situation to navigate.

You may find it helpful to find a caretaker support group, talk with a close friend, or see a counselor. The important thing is to vent your frustrations rather than allowing them to build up.

Get the Facts on Depression

There are trusted resources on the internet that provide facts about depression, including symptoms and treatment. Reading up on what depression can feel like as well as the myths, misconceptions, and stigma around mental illness, can help you better understand your loved one's experience.

Do Your Research

You should also learn about the other aspects of living with depression, such as informed consent and the legal rights of people seeking treatment. You may also want to inform yourself and your loved one about the relevant disability laws in your state for people who have a mental illness.

Be Supportive

Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can offer to someone going through a hard time is your presence. Just providing a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on can be very comforting. Be patient and let your loved one know you are there for them.

You may decide to share what you've learned about depression in your research, but the most important thing you can tell them is that you understand depression is not their fault and that they are not lazy, weak, or worthless.

Remember Your Loved One is Not Their Depression

Depression can impair a person's social skills as well as make them feel less like being around others. They may become withdrawn, shy, sullen, and angry.

While it can be hard to be on the receiving end of an outburst, when someone who is depressed lashes out in anger, keep in mind that it may not be related to you at all—you might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When your loved one pulls away from you, it can be very difficult not to take it personally—especially if you are in a romantic relationship. If your spouse doesn't feel like having sex, you may feel rejected or worry they don't love you anymore.

Try to keep in mind that loss of sex drive is a classic symptom of depression. Sexual dysfunction can also be a side effect of the medications used to treat it.

Avoid Judgement and Blame

If someone you love is depressed and no longer able to do the activities they used to, including working or helping around the house, you may feel like they are being lazy.

When you get frustrated, try to remember that someone who is depressed isn't lazy—they're ill. Everyday activities like cleaning the house, paying bills, or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming, if not impossible, to someone who is depressed.

If your loved one's responsibilities around the house are piling up, you may not be able to take them on yourself. In addition to resisting the urge to blame your loved one, try not to blame yourself either. Know that it's OK if you need to ask for help.

Understand Medications

Many people with depression take medication, if not several. One practical way you can help them is by educating yourself on how the medication works, what the side effects are, and knowing signs to look for that would indicate the treatment is not working or that your loved one has stopped taking a medication (withdrawal symptoms).

You can also help them remember to refill prescriptions, keep their pills organized, make sure they are taking their medication as prescribed, and reassuring them that they are not "crazy" for needing to take it.

Offer Hope

Offer your loved one hope in whatever form they are able to accept it. It may be a faith in God or another kind of higher power, their children or pets, or anything in their life that makes them want to keep living.

Know what matters to your loved one and find ways to remind them of it when they feel down and hopeless. Be sure to remind yourself of these things, too.

If someone with depression is showing signs of suicidal ideation, self-harming, or you are worried they are planning to attempt suicide, they need immediate help.

Warning Signs of Suicide

For your loved one's safety, know the warning signs that could indicate they are suicidal, such as:

  • Preoccupation with death
  • Creating a will or giving away possessions
  • Talking openly about wanting to kill oneself
  • Saying goodbye as though it's the last time
  • Development of a suicide plan, acquiring the means to carry it out, "rehearsal" behavior, setting a time for the attempt
  • Statements like, "You'd be better off without me," or "I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up."
  • Suddenly switching from being very depressed to being very happy or calm for no apparent reason

Love Them Unconditionally

People who are depressed often feel a deep sense of guilt. They may believe that they are a burden to those around them. Sometimes, they even begin to feel that their loved ones would be "better off" with them.

One of the ways you can combat these feelings is by regularly showing and telling them that you love them unconditionally. When you become discouraged or angry, it's important to reassure them that you are frustrated with their illness, not them.

When you care about someone with depression and are trying to find the best way to help, it's essential that you have some support yourself. Whether it comes from other people in your life or a support group for caregivers, taking care of yourself not only strengthens your ability to help your loved one but also sets a positive example of good self-care.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  1. Genovese T, Dalrymple K, Chelminski I, Zimmerman M. Subjective anger and overt aggression in psychiatric outpatients. Compr Psychiatry. 2017;73:23-30. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2016.10.008

  2. Phillips RL, Slaughter JR. Depression and sexual desire. Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(4):782-6.

  3. Targum SD, Fava M. Fatigue as a residual symptom of depression. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2011;8(10):40-3.

  4. Asarnow JR, Babeva K, Horstmann E. The Emergency Department: Challenges and Opportunities for Suicide Prevention. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2017;26(4):771-783. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2017.05.002