5 Tips for Supporting Someone with Depression

November 9, 2017 | Updated October 2, 2018

If you’ve ever suspected that someone you care about might have depression, then you know how upsetting that helpless feeling can be. When someone is struggling with depression, their loved ones can feel that pain too. It’s frustrating, heartbreaking, and downright scary to know that someone you love is hurting and not know how to help.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help. To start, familiarize yourself with early signs of depression to help pick up on any warning signs.

Signs of Depression

While depression can look different for each person, there are some common signs that you, as an outsider, can watch for:

  1. Loss of Pleasure/Interest
    A hallmark sign of depression is someone losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. An example could be a typically social person who suddenly begins turning down invitations to go out. If they do still go out, their mood may come across as down or neutral at best.
  1. Pessimism
    People who have depression tend to see things in a more pessimistic light. At times, this may look like realism, but frequently assuming the worst could be a sign of depression.
  1. Mood Swings
    Irritability and a short temper could be signs of depression. Watch for these mood swings that last longer than a few days and appears to be a pattern.
  1. Appetite/Weight Changes
    Depression will oftentimes affect a person’s appetite. Be aware of someone suddenly skipping meals or beginning to eat in between meals. Over time, this can impact their weight as well.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of depression.

How to Help Someone with Depression

Depression is a very personal struggle and can require a lot of personal effort from the affected individual to begin to feel better. However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do.

Here are a few ways to try to help your loved one with depression:

  1. Read and Listen
    If you haven’t already, read about depression. Find out what the different types of depression are and what their symptoms look like. Sometimes behaviors that look like anxiety are actually depression symptoms and vice versa. When you’re tuned into the subtleties of depression, you might catch something other people missed.

    After reading about depression, try to keep yourself from looking at this person as a patient and remember they’re someone you care about. Just being there to listen can be enough when you don’t know what to say.

  1. Get Interested
    You know you’re already interested but the person you’re trying to help might not recognize that you’re interested in helping them. A great way to let them know you’re invested in their struggles and want to help is to simply ask questions.

    Ask them how long they’ve felt this way and if they think any one thing in particular triggered it. Ask if anything they do makes them feel better or makes them feel worse. Ask what they need from you as a friend, keeping in mind they might not have an answer. And remind them to go to the doctor. Sometimes there’s a very physical cause for depression, like an out of whack thyroid or a hormone imbalance.

  1. Laugh
    Of course, laughter makes us feel good – we all know that. But laughter can be pretty substantial for someone dealing with depression. When we laugh, our brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Scientists believe a dopamine imbalance is linked closely to depression. So, the more you can make someone laugh, the better they could feel.

    Watch a light-hearted movie together, go to a comedy show, or simply send them unexpected funny memes to get them through the work day. You never know what little gesture will spark a chuckle and help boost their mood.

  1. Be Encouraging and Empowering
    One thing you can do that tends to be appreciated is to remind your friend that they won’t always feel this way. To keep your words from feeling like a cliché, remember that depression can feel like a black hole to those who have it. Your friend might feel like there’s no way they’ll ever get passed it, so saying that they will just shows how much you don’t “get it.” Acknowledge that feeling. Tell them it might not feel like it now, but there’s a treatment plan out there that will work for them and they will get better.

    Another way to show the authenticity in your sentiment is to point out your friend’s strengths. Remind them that getting out of bed every morning while dealing with this internal battle is a feat in itself. Whatever it is that you admire in them, say it.

  2. Help Find Support for Depression
    Support groups are often an effective tool to help people cope. Not feeling alone during times of struggle can be priceless medicine. Studies have shown that people who are going through a tough time actually show significant improvement when they’re a part of a support group.

    If your friend is resistant to the idea of a support group, try to reassure them that there’s no shame in seeking help; depression is a medical issue that requires treatment. Offer to help look into support groups near you and how to join. Often times, getting started is the hardest part, so helping your friend through that step can be instrumental.

Borchard, Therese. (2014, May 22). 9 Ways to Help a Friend or Family Member with Depression. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/ways-to-help-a-friend-or-family-member-with-depression/
Chernyak, Paul. (2018). “How to Know if Someone is Depressed.” Retrieved from https://www.wikihow.com/Know-if-Someone-is-Depressed#Questions_and_Answers_sub