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How to help someone suffering from depression

Updated on August 10, 2016

Depression is a common mental disorder that impacts people from all walks of life. Women are more likely than men to undergo depression. It is also more likely to occur in young adults aged 18-25 when compared to people aged 50 or older.

Each person is unique and their needs might be different. Regardless of the situation, there are few things that you can do universally to reach out to a friend or family member going through depression.

Recognize the symptoms

Some of the signs may not be evident immediately. If left undetected, depression can cause devastating consequences. It is important to recognize the symptoms and differentiate it from the stress we endure on a daily basis. There are few tell-tale signs that should alert you to the fact that someone is going through depression.

  1. Angry outbursts
  2. Irritability and anxiety
  3. Changes in sleep pattern
  4. Loss of appetite or overeating
  5. Negative outlook on life
  6. Low self-esteem
  7. Sudden headaches and body ache
  8. Lack of enthusiasm
  9. Hopeless attitude
  10. Talks about death or suicide

To the last point, make sure you take this very seriously as depression carries a high probability of suicide. If depression is left unaddressed, suicide is a genuine risk. Contact local emergency authorities if you become aware of such a risk.

Lend a compassionate ear

Do not hesitate to initiate a conversation for the fear of insulting or embarrassing the person. They might be reluctant to take this first step. Be honest in your approach or else they might not take you seriously. Here are few tips that might help you bring up the topic and have a face-face conversation:

"I am here to listen if you want to talk to someone"

"I have noticed that you seem to be feeling pretty down"

"I wanted to check in on you as I am feeling concerned about you"

"I am here to support you no matter what"

"Is there anything I can do?"

Be open to anything that they have to say and listen with empathy. Do not interrupt when they are speaking. Be patient and let them vent out any feelings of frustration or helplessness. It might sound silly to you but remember that this is not about you.

Sometimes maintaining silence is the most compassionate way of showing support. By saying nothing, you say it all.

Ask probing questions

Feelings of negativity and hopelessness may be deep-seated. It is crucial to reach the root cause of the problem. To provide the required support, try to understand why the person is feeling low and what triggered the episode.

Each individual's cause of depression might be unique and hence you should not generalize the experience. Just by asking enough questions, you can determine the next course of action and relate better to the situation.

Few things that you can ask to dig deeper into the issue:

  1. From when are you feeling this way?
  2. Is there any work related concerns?
  3. Is there anything specific that makes you feel this way?
  4. What do you think will make you feel better?
  5. Is there anything I can do for you?

Ask questions to find more facts only if the individual is ready to respond. Make sure you do not force these questions upon the person. Be sensitive and thoughtful to each response.

Establish awareness

Basic knowledge on depression can go a long way in providing support. Work together to learn more about what depression is. There are so many resources out there that can contribute to your research and inspire them to learn more about their condition.

Help the person find as much information as possible which in turn aids them to come to terms with what they are going through. This collaborative approach will inspire them to reveal any misconceptions and accept that they need to fight it rather than leave things the way they are.

Knowing that there are others out there going through a similar distressing scenario and that they are not alone will encourage people to deal better with depression.

Acceptance is the first step in the healing process. It is the key to survival and will help them avoid further distress. Admitting that they are suffering will help them challenge the thoughts that make them feel depressed.

Build an action plan to reduce stress

Creating strategies to beat stress should be focussed on reducing feelings of isolation and withdrawal. Setting goals will help provide them with a feeling of motivation and a sense of success in achieving them.

Finding ways to help them cope could be difficult and subjective. Start small and help them stay connected to the world.

  1. Reach out to them regularly
  2. Go for a comedy movie
  3. Take them for a short walk
  4. Join a meditation or yoga group together
  5. Schedule a weekly coffee date
  6. Encourage them to write about their feelings
  7. Help them create a sleep schedule
  8. Discourage alcohol or drugs
  9. Learn a new skill together

Recommend professional help

Even the most severe case of depression is treatable. However since every case is unique, it might take some time to find the kind of assistance that aligns to their specific problem. Offer to locate a counselor yourself and also go along with them for the first appointment.

Suggesting professional help might be a difficult subject to broach. Do not force this recommendation unless the individual is open to the suggestion. Advise to meet a counselor once and to quit if it is not working for them. If they decline, respect their wishes and back off for the time being.

Seeking a therapist's assistance is viewed negatively by many people. There are a couple of things you can say to encourage them to explore the professional option:

  1. Helps you find a purpose and holds you accountable for goals
  2. Establishes emotional wellness
  3. Teaches you to overcome anxiety
  4. Helps you become stronger as a person
  5. Meet someone who provides unbiased attention
  6. Improvement in lifestyle
  7. Lower risk of reoccurrence

Depression causes internal pain to those suffering from it as well as the people around them. Do not make excuses for the person or cover up for them. This might deter them from seeking help. Never downplay their emotions by saying things like:

"Everyone goes through stuff like this"

"You need to get over this"

"You are depressed"

Statements like these will increase the probability of the individual's inability to connect emotionally.

Look out for yourself and maintain a balanced life while providing hope and encouragement. The experience can be pretty intense and daunting. It is equally important to have a healthy mental state so that you can provide ample support to your loved one struggling with depression.


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    • Vidya Kurup profile imageAUTHOR

      Vidya Kurup 

      2 years ago from Bangalore

      Thanks for the comment Denise. I think finding the right kind of help will take time and physical examination might serve this purpose.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      These are great tips. When we recognize the symptoms of depression in someone that we love, it is important for us to do what we can to help. I recommend to people that the first step in getting help is to have a thorough physical examination by the person's general practitioner. Depression can be the byproduct of many physical ailments, and these need to be ruled out before psychological treatment is pursued. Once this is done, the practitioner can do a referral for mental health treatment and the person will be able to get in to see someone much more quickly.


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