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Helping Someone with Major Depression

Updated on July 30, 2013


Living with Major Depression is difficult for everyone involved. The person suffering from the illness can be withdrawn, anxious, or tearful. They may withdraw from relationships and life in general. For the spouse, family and friends of this person, it can be difficult to know how to help or what to say. The following are some ideas of how you can help someone with Major Depression.

Learn About the Illness

One of the most supportive things you can do is learn all that you can about Major Depression. Because there are so many ideas about what depression is and is not, now is the time to learn the truth. Consider checking out a video on the subject or do an online search. PBS made an excellent video on Depression, and I would recommend it for anyone who knows or loves someone with the illness. The more you know, the more you can help. To learn more about Major Depression, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness at

Expect the Sadness

One of the most difficult symptoms to manage in Depression is the immense persistent sadness. Someone with the illness may feel as if there is nothing to live for. Sadness may be expressed as withdrawal from family, friends and activities. It may also be displayed through the shedding of many tears. It is important to note that to the one who is crying as well as to those who care the tears may seem endless.

How can you help with the sadness you may ask? You can help by just being there. Be comfortable with your own emotions and understand that someone with Depression cannot control the waves of sadness. Learn to listen and talk through the tears. The need for human connection is strong and the caring touch from a loved one means so much. A simple hug or an arm over the shoulders of another is so supportive.

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Invite to Meals and Activities

Because lack of motivation is a symptom of Major Depression your loved one may not have the energy or the will to do much beyond exist. While there are many things that should be done or must be done, someone with Depression cannot get them done. And this is how you can help.

A simple offer of having lunch together - whether at home or out - provides a sense of purpose for the day. This can be the catalyst for your loved one to get out of bed, clean up, and get dressed. It seems that when a person may not be able to do something for himself that he may be willing to do it for the sake of another. So, offer! Invite! Sometimes just take your loved one with you while you run errands. Getting out and seeing a new scenery can be good for the spirit.

Encourage Exercise and Sunlight

Exercise is an activity that helps in many ways with Depression. Physical activity causes the release of endorphins - natural chemicals within the body that elevate the mood. Most people feel much better after a workout than they did before. This is why. As much as possible, go for walks, go biking or participate in other physical activities with your loved one. Your efforts can help improve both mood and overall health!

Exposure to direct sunlight is also great therapy for those with Depression. Studies have shown that sunlight causes the release of serotonin - another natural chemical in the body that elevates mood. So, as much as possible, help your loved one get outdoors and into the sunlight. If this is not possible, position a chair or bed beside a bright window or use an SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light. Make use of sunlight as much as possible.

Laughter is Good Medicine

Music and Humor

The last thing someone with Major Depression needs is to listen to somber or sorrowful music or watch sad movies. As much as possible play music that is upbeat and uplifting. Play it loudly sometimes to really get the beat going and encourage singing along. Seek out comedies when watching television or movies. Tell jokes. Read jokes. Smile. All of these little things can have an enormous impact on the quality of life of your loved one.


Prevent Harm

In the depths of Major Depression a person may feel like life is not worth living or that the world would be a better place without them. These are dreadful feelings that can lead to suicide or other self harm if not taken seriously. If your loved one has made comments like these or has mentioned the method he would use to hurt himself you should be prepared to call 911. This is a mental health emergency and the care of a physician is necessary. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and get help. It is far better to do too much than too little.


Major Depression can wreak havoc on the most stable of relationships. Effort to understand the illness and implement some simple strategies can provide meaning and structure for your loved one with the illness. When in doubt, reach out. Your caring presence can do so much!


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