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How to Recognize and Effectively Address Depression in Your Loved Ones

How to Recognize and Effectively Address Depression in Your Loved Ones

  • September 24, 2022

Family and friends are often the first line of defense in the fight against depression. That’s why it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of depression. You may notice the problem in a depressed loved one before they do, and your influence and concern can motivate them to seek help.

Be concerned if your loved one:

  • Doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore. Has lost interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other pleasurable activities. Has withdrawn from friends, family, and other social activities.
  • Expresses a bleak or negative outlook on life. Is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody; talks about feeling “helpless” or “hopeless.”
  • Frequently complains of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and back pain. Or complains of feeling tired and drained all the time.
  • Sleeps less than usual or oversleeps. Has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, and “out of it.”
  • Eats more or less than usual, and has recently gained or lost weight.
  • Drinks more or abuses drugs, including prescription sleeping pills and painkillers, as a way to self-medicate how they’re feeling.

Tips for Talking about Depression

What you CAN say that helps:

“You’re not alone. I’m here for you during this tough time.”

“It may be hard to believe right now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”

“Please tell me what I can do now to help you.”

“Even if I’m not able to understand exactly how you feel, I care about you and want to help.”

“You’re important to me. Your life is important to me.”

“When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, or minute—whatever you can manage.”

What you should AVOID saying:

“This is all in your head”

“Everyone goes through tough times.”

“Try to look on the bright side.”

“Why do you want to die when you have so much to live for?”

“I can’t do anything about your situation.”

“Just snap out of it.”

“You should be feeling better by now.”

How to help

Start a conversation

Let your friend know you’re there for them. You can start the conversation by sharing your concerns and asking a specific question.

For example, you might say:

  • “It seems like you’ve been having a hard time lately. What’s on your mind?”
  • “The last few times we hung out, you seemed a little down. Is there anything going on you that you’d like to talk about?”
  • “You mentioned going through some hard times recently — how are you feeling about everything?”

Help them find support

Your friend may not be aware they’re dealing with depression, or they may be unsure how to reach out for support. Even if they know therapy could help, it can be daunting to search for a therapist and make an appointment.

Support them in continuing therapy

On a bad day, your friend might not feel like leaving the house. Depression can zap energy and increase the desire to self-isolate. If they say something like, “I think I’m going to cancel my therapy appointment,” encourage them to stick with it.

Learn about depression on your own

Imagine having to educate each person in your life about a mental or physical health condition you’re experiencing — explaining it over and over again. Sounds exhausting, right?

You can talk with your friend about their specific symptoms or how they’re feeling, but avoid asking them to tell you about depression in general terms. Read up on the symptoms, causes, diagnostic criteria, and treatments on your own.

Stay in touch

Letting your friend know you still care about them as they continue to work through depression can help.

Even if you aren’t able to spend a lot of time with them on a regular basis, check in regularly with a text, phone call, or quick visit. Even sending a quick text saying “I’ve been thinking of you and I care about you” can help.

Depression hotlines, suicide prevention help

Depression hotlines

In the U.S.: Find DBSA Chapters/Support Groups or call the NAMI Helpline for support and referrals at 1-800-950-6264

UK: Find Depression support groups in-person and online or call the Mind Infoline at 0300 123 3393

Australia: Call the SANE Help Centre at 1800 18 7263

Canada: Call Mood Disorders Society of Canada at 613-921-5565

India: Call the Vandrevala Foundation Helpline (India) at 1860 2662 345 or 1800 2333 330

Suicide prevention help

In the U.S.: Call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988

UK and Ireland: Call Samaritans UK at 116 123

Australia: Call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14

Canada: Find Crisis Centers Across Canada by province.

Other countries: Visit IASP or to find a helpline near you

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