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What You Can Do When a Loved One Is Depressed

If you know someone you think is depressed, there are ways you can help. Keep in mind that even though depression is a serious illness, with help, a depressed person can feel better. It's important to remember that, just like diabetes or heart disease, depression is an illness. A person can't simply "snap out of it."

Encourage treatment

Two men and two women seated in a circle, talking to one another

Depression is a very treatable illness. Medicine, counseling, and self-help methods can help a depressed person feel better and get back to a normal life. The first step is to visit a doctor or other mental health professional for an evaluation. If you can, go to the evaluation to offer support and help answer the doctor’s questions. If the depressed person is reluctant to seek help, call the doctor yourself and ask for advice.

If the depressed person expresses suicidal thoughts, or if you are concerned that he or she is in immediate danger of hurting him- or herself, seek immediate help. Call 911 or, if it is safe to transport the person and they will not try and jump out of a moving vehicle, take him or her to the closest emergency room or to a 24-hour crisis center. People in a suicidal crisis need immediate psychiatric help and continuous observation. Take action. Remove means of self-harm, such as guns, rope, or stockpiled pills. Don't leave the person alone while you seek help.

Be supportive

Here are some other ways you can help:

  • Encourage them to talk. Talking about their feelings often helps depressed people feel better.

  • Listen. It's more important than giving advice. Never tell a depressed person they should be grateful for what they have and need to just "snap out of it."

  • Realize that the person is in pain. Try to be understanding.

  • Don’t criticize or be negative. Never blame anyone. Depression is no one’s fault.

  • Encourage the person to join in enjoyable activities. Invite the person out for movies or walks. But realize that he or she may not be able to cope with too many activities at once.

  • Do not ignore or discount comments about self-harm or suicide. Ask what the person is thinking about doing and if they have the means (such as a gun or medicines) to hurt themselves. Seek immediate help if he or she is at risk. Asking a person if he or she is thinking about suicide does not cause them to self-harm.

  • Be patient. Appreciate progress, however slow.

Take time out

Don’t feel guilty about spending time away from the person. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t let the depressed person take over all of your time. Spend time alone or with other family members and friends.

  • Keep a positive attitude. Don’t be influenced by the person’s negative thinking.

  • If your advice or help isn’t accepted, understand that sometimes the person just needs someone to listen and not give advice.

  • Consider joining a support or therapy group. Counseling can often help family and friends better cope with a loved one’s depression. Children, in particular, may benefit from counseling.

  • Don’t feel responsible for solving the problem yourself. You can’t. Do what you can, and feel good about your efforts.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2020
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.