Helping Someone with Depression

, it is important for you to have your own self-care system in place to help you manage your own thoughts when trying to help your loved one.

Take Care of Yourself

The first thing you need to know is that your loved one having depression is not your fault.

To believe this, it helps to remember that depression has a physiological base. If your brain chemistry is out of whack, of course you’ll feel low or off.

A person can feel depressed for physiological reasons, environmental reasons, circumstances, or a combination of all of it. If you “own” their depression as being your fault, you are at risk for feeling guilt or shame and will not be as effective in helping your loved one.

It is true, the symptoms of depression can feel very personal. Your loved one may even choose to blame you. You may have done something to hurt your loved one and could feel guilty. You may even feel depressed yourself sometimes.

The nasty thing about depression is, it’s self-absorbed. It lies and tells us awful things about ourselves and the people we love.

Remember that feelings do not last forever. Feeling a certain way about something does not make it a fact. As a loving, caring person, it helps if you are in a mental space to recognize the fleeting nature of feelings.

Before we talk about ways to care for your loved one, first assess: what is your plan to take care of yourself?

Simply put, taking care of yourself helps you to have the energy and stamina needed to be a caring support for your loved one.

This can take many forms:

  • Finding a support group or your own therapist to help you through this difficult time.
  • Setting boundaries on the things you can do or are willing to do for your loved one.
    • This will empower them to do more for themselves. 
  • Finding a hobby or taking time to do something that brings you joy.
  • Going for walks – soak up the sun!
  • Practicing gratitude daily.
  • Journaling your thoughts, feelings, frustrations.
    • This does not have to be daily and it helps you to take a look at your thoughts from another perspective.
  • Practicing prayer or meditation regularly.
  • Taking space to be by yourself or with friends – people who fill you up with energy and support.

Remember: you are not being selfish or neglectful. Taking care of yourself allows you to replenish. This will reduce your frustration and you will be modeling healthy behavior for your loved one. Modeling healthy self-care is the first thing you can do to help someone with depression.

Give it a Name

Next, identify and describe the behaviors or symptoms of depression your loved one exhibits:

Describing behavior means that, instead of telling someone “Wow, you’re really depressed today” you say “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating or showering this week, what are you feeling?” The difference is you are inviting the person to talk to you about their experience instead of making assumptions. Another benefit to describing behavior “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing…” it separates those actions from their identity. Telling someone “you’re depressed” makes it a part of who they are.

Disclaimer: an official diagnosis must be determined by a licensed mental health provider or practitioner.

Depression looks like several of the following symptoms on a nearly everyday basis.

  • Feeling sad, empty, guilty, worthless, and/or helpless. This can manifest itself in irritability.
  • Responds frequently with pessimism and hopelessness.
  • Appearing tearful frequently throughout the day.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite almost daily.
  • Insomnia (not sleeping enough) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
  • Restlessness or feels slowed down.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Reduced ability to think or concentrate.
  • Indecisiveness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

**Note, the presence of these symptoms must be treated as an emergency that requires immediate intervention (such as calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255).

Even if your loved one does not have enough symptoms to be officially diagnosed with depression, you can still use these tips to help prevent things from getting worse.

Identifying and describing the behaviors is useful because it gives you language to talk about the depression without blame or judgement. This also enables you to give it a name, which gives you power and separates it from your loved one. Turning depression into a problem you can tackle together. Describing behaviors helps you and your loved one to develop awareness, which allows you to know when and how to act to address those symptoms – leading to the development of new habits and eventual mastery over the symptoms.

Help with Basic Needs

When someone is feeling depressed, they lack the motivation to care for their most basic needs. Remember, your loved one is not being lazy. This can be very difficult to understand if you have not experienced depression yourself. If you have experienced depression, and “pulled out of it,” it would be natural for you to have some frustration with your loved one who is not able to “pull out of it.” Again, it is important for you to have your own self-care system in place to help you manage your own thoughts when trying to help your loved one.

Here are some suggestions when it comes to helping with basic needs.

  • Difficulty focusing can lead to a loss of track of time or inability to finish a thought. You can help your loved one by having patience when they lose track of time or forget what they were talking about. You could offer to help with bills or other tasks for a limited time.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless leads to thoughts of “what’s the point of doing that?” You can help by providing encouragement, reminders of the hope in the fleeting nature of emotions.
  • Indecisiveness can lead to not making decisions or taking a long time to make decisions. You can ask if it would be helpful for you to make the decisions for your loved one for a limited time.
  • Inability to think can lead to leads to detachment and dissociation from the present.
  • Not sleeping at night, leads to being tired in the day.
  • Sleeping too much, leaves very little time left for anything else.
  • Loss of appetite leads to not wanting to eat. You can make their favorite foods and offer it to them.
  • Loss of energy leads to not showering or doing chores. You can be supportive by encouraging your loved one to shower. You can wash their clothes.

When it comes to helping with basic needs, two things are critical:

  1. Do these tasks out of love and care, not shame or blame.
  2. Boundaries are important. Time limits help with this. For example, I will help you this week while you are working on getting help for your depression.

One way to know your boundaries are not in place; you start to feel taken advantage of. You may start to have thoughts your loved one is “acting” depressed to get you to do the hard stuff. When these things come up; stop and re-evaluate. Check-in with your support network. Change what you’re doing to help. This will prevent you from developing resentment. A caregiver that is resentful is not able to be present and caring. It is always ok for you to take some space and take a break to focus on caring for yourself.

Express Empathy

Another way you can help your loved one is to express empathy for them.

  • Empathy looks like sitting with someone, letting them know you understand they are hurting, and allow them time and space to feel their emotions.

This can be very uncomfortable or painful. If someone you love is hurting, it is natural to want to make the pain go away:

  • Some caregivers try to make the pain go away by “fixing” everything they can control.
  • Some try to get their loved one to “snap out of it” and encourage them to “just do what they need to.”
  • Cliché’s such as “this too shall pass” and “God never gives us more than we can handle” while well-intended are often ineffective when spoken to others. When you say these to someone who is hurting, it implies the struggle has a “quick fix” and often results in feelings of shame or guilt for the person that is unable to just “let it go.”  

The most helpful thing to do, is to be present. Sit next to them, looking in the same direction they are. Comfort with an embrace if they will let you. Feel the hurt with them, let them cry. Remember the feeling will not last forever. In showing empathy, you are letting your loved one will know they are not alone.

Love without Judgment

This last point applies both to your loved one and to yourself. Yes, it is important to allow for grace for your loved one. They are going through a difficult season, that will require support and time to move through. Some individuals experience depression for years. If you are frustrated by this, know they are too. They are likely judging themselves enough for the both of you.

  • Coming from a place of understanding and allowing for time for healing, instead of judging, will help the healing process by reducing shame.

Caring for and loving someone with depression can be challenging. There will be times when you show frustration, lack patience, and try to just fix it. When you do, do not judge yourself for being human and making a mistake. Allow grace for yourself. Apologize if necessary. Increase your own self-care. Try to do better next time.

Depression is a self-centered beast. Your desire to help is admirable, I hope these tips have been helpful, but ultimately it is not your responsibility to fix your loved one. They will need to see a therapist to truly begin to heal. Having you in their life to support them through this process is the best way to tackle depression together.

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