If you want to support your loved one through depression, the best thing you can do is to listen to them.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 11, 2019. It has since been updated.
Everyone feels down from time to time, but when that down phase lasts for two weeks or more and starts affecting everyday life, it can be a sign of depression, according to NHS UK. Your family and friends, although close enough to share their feelings, may not always know that there are showing signs of clinical depression. So the first step to help them is to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
Once you recognize that someone you care about is going through depression, you might feel concerned as well as confused, especially if you have never gone through it yourself. Some people tread lightly around the other person because they fear upsetting them or saying the wrong thing. Others might feel a need to be extra sensitive and check in often. While all of these have good intentions, knowing how the other person feels may be a good guide to be a supportive friend, partner, parent, or family member.
Here are six ways you can be there for them the right way.
Listening, pure and attentive listening, can aid healing remarkably. When your loved one feels sad, disheartened, anxious, or hopeless, just create a space—through attentive listening—and hold the space to allow them to feel and express all their thoughts and emotions. Let them know that while you may not always relate to what they are going through, you want to understand their feelings. It is important to open a dialogue with them so that they can express themselves freely. When they talk, instead of trying to give them any advice or your opinion (unless asked), listen to them carefully. Being heard by someone without judgment can be a powerful healing tool, according to Mayo Clinic.
When someone is depressed, just getting out of the house can seem like a big task. If they have a set date in front of them for which they have to show up for without them having to plan and initiate it, it can be helpful for them. This takes off the pressure of making plans and just lets them drop by at ease. So, if you want to support a friend or family member going through depression, check with them and make dates with them. This can be simple things like going to pick groceries together, cooking a meal together, or just catching up over coffee. Psychology Today recommends picking an activity that is likely to cause the least stress in them. For example, if crowds make them anxious, planning a movie date is not a good idea.
According to the Mayo Clinic, low self-esteem and self-criticism are common among those with persistent depressive disorder. This can make decision-making and problem-solving a bit harder than it is for others. The pain they are going through can also lead them to blame themselves for things beyond their control. Thus, it is important to encourage them and remind them of their positive qualities. The key here is to be genuine.
Encourage your loved one to seek professional help. If it seems like a huge deal for them, start small. If they are willing to know more, you can share helpful online resources or books. Make sure you don't come across as patronizing or pushy. You can also encourage them to look at online forums where those dealing with depression come together to discuss their experiences. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers employee assistance programs, and so do many faith-based organizations that your loved one might find less intimidating.
People with depression need the same care as others going through a medical ailment Depression is not a choice; healing is. So do not judge them for being "weak" or "too sensitive." Even if you don't say it, if you believe it, they can sense it. Educate yourself and understand why a depressed person expresses certain beliefs and viewpoints.
Also, do not dismiss or minimize their feelings. What might be small for you may be life-threatening for another because of their life experiences and brain chemicals. Even some well-intending family members may say things like, "You’re just too thin-skinned" or "Why do you let every little thing bother you?" This can make the person feel guilty for going through difficult times. It is like saying that what they are going through is a personality flaw and not a disorder, according to Psych Central.
If the person close to you decides to get treatment, encourage them to stick with it. Therapy can bring out long-held beliefs and trigger long-forgotten childhood and other memories. Be there if they want to talk. You can also help them by reminding them to collect their medications and not miss out on appointments. If they feel too tired or overwhelmed, assist them in practical chores, only if they are okay with it.
This is the best way to understand your loved one. Ask them what you can do and listen to them. Sometimes, they may want to be left alone, and that is fine, too. Caring for someone with mental illness can be exhausting. Make sure you take care of your own emotional health and practice regular self-care.