Depression is very common. People experience depression for various reasons and at varying degrees. When people find out that I am a counselor they often share an anonymous story of a friend or family member and pose this question, “what should I do?” I wanted to provide a quick reference for those trying to help someone with depression.
What can you do to help someone else who is suffering from depression?
First, it is important to assess the severity of the depression. If the person is making suicidal threats, has suicidal ideations (ideas or thoughts), unable to get out of bed, no longer attending work or school… PLEASE SKIP READING THIS BLOG AND SEEK IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY HELP. CALL 9-1-1, DRIVE THEM TO THE LOCAL ER, OR CALL THE NUMBERS LISTED BELOW:
Texas Suicide Prevention:
National Suicide Hotline:
If you have ever tried to “talk sense into” a depressed person you probably realized either it made them angry and defensive, or it made them plummet further into depression. Attempting to talk a person into reality or talking them out of depression is like butting your head against a brick wall, it does no good and will only generate further damage.
So what are you to do?
EMPATHY. Yes, that’s correct, simply agree with a depressed person that their situation is not ideal, that it is in fact painful, sad, hurtful, frustrating, etc. This is the first step to getting in their closed door. “You know Sam, I completely get why you would feel so extremely sad about _________. That would make anyone sad.”
AVAILABILITY. A common first response, and an incorrect first response, is to share a similar struggle stated something like, “I know exactly how you feel…one time I was depressed…” I get it, this is all done with the best of intentions to give the person hope for a better tomorrow and to establish a connection that you’re understanding and a safe place to vent. True depression creates loneliness and isolation because no one has ever experienced exactly what they’re going through, regardless how eerily similar the cause of depression may be. Instead, a general blanket statement letting the person know that you care and are available when they are ready to talk is recommended, “Sam, I really care about you a lot, you are important in my life. When you’re ready to talk, I am always here for you.”
HELPING HAND. “Part B” of availability is offering the person help. Depression causes a person to feel overwhelmed, which leads to feelings of defeat, which causes hopelessness and shame. Make yourself available to help with their full plate. Sometimes you need to ask what they need help with, other times look around and volunteer the help: dishes, laundry, cooking meals, etc. This type of availability of your time and energy will speak volumes to them, especially if they are not ready to open up and talk to you just yet it creates safety and assurance you truly care. Taking some of their burden gives them time to put mental energy back into themselves.
OUT-AND-ABOUT. Isolation, lack of motivation, stuck in a lonely cycle…these are goals to break for the depressed person. This may be a process. Asking the person to get dressed up and go out for hours of an active activity is overwhelming to people who are suffering moderate to severe depression. Have a pajama movie outting…go to the matinee in pajama pants and a t-shirt. This gets them out of the house with minimal effort. Start simple and effortlessly and build up to more involved levels of getting out of the house that require more activity and getting dressed (clothes, hair, makeup, etc.). Breaking up the monotony of depressed isolation is a critical step towards their recovery.
AFFIRMATION. Again, this goes back to the sense of hopelessness triggered by depression. Overt genuine words of affirmation throughout the day and week about their talents, worth, and abilities works by planting seeds. Instill in them hope and positive beliefs about themselves based on genuine truth.
A brief closing note: Depression is serious. I am not a fan of self-help for serious issues. These are suggestions for family and friends to use with people who suffer from depression, but they do NOT replace the need for counseling and professional assessment and evaluation. It can be overwhelming looking for a counselor. I suggest looking at websites and profiles of counselors in your area, but also religious leaders are a great resource, they almost always have a trusted professional counselor they refer to and would be glad to give you the counselor’s information.