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HOW CAN YOU HELP... When someone you love suffers depression?

We get a lot of people asking us how they can help family members and friends who are suffering from depression. This is a difficult question to answer.

As with all illnesses, there are different severities of depression, different situations and contributing factors, -everyone's experience may be different. The type and amount of help you are able to provide can also depend upon the particular relationship you have with the depression sufferer!

However there are some common threads, and many things that will help most depression sufferers. The following are some ideas that may help. For simplicity, we have written this in the first person...

1. Try not to let my depression bring you down too much.
I know this can be a big ask, but I already feel like a failure in so many areas, and when I see that I am making you unhappy too, it makes me feel worse about myself and adds to the feelings of failure.

2. Don't ask me to cheer up in anyway.
I can't. When I feel pressure to do so, it makes me feel even worse. So asking me to cheer up has the opposite effect from what you wanted.

3. Understand that I have an illness and I don't want to feel this way.
I have an illness. No matter what caused the depression, the fact that I have it means that there is a chemical imbalance happening in my body that is making me feel this way. All is not well in my body in the same way as if I had a bad iron deficiency, or diabetes, etc, only the effects are much worse on the way I feel emotionally.

4. Let me know that it is OK that I have depression.
I sometimes feel that I must be weak, or a failure for having depression, particularly if the people around me are uncomfortable with my illness. Let me know that it is OK, that you don't think less of me as a person.

5. Have faith in my willingness and ability to get better.
Be strong for me. Have faith in me and my ability to get better - long term, particularly when I don't.
I often feel that I will never get better, that life will always be this way.
But that is just the depression talking. It makes me feel so hopeless.

6. Encourage me (gently) to do things that will help me to get better.
If my doctor feels that I should be taking medication, encourage me. I sometimes feel that I should be able to get better by myself, but as with many other illnesses, I may need medication and therapy. Let me know that it is OK to get help.

7. Congratulate me when I do things that will help me to get better.
When you have depression, it is hard to get motivated to do anything. So if I go for a walk, maybe just let me know that you can see me trying. Maybe say something like "I've heard that exercise can really help with depression. You know, I admire the effort you are putting in to get better."

8. Learn about depression yourself.
Depression is a big part of my life at the moment - in fact, when I am severely depressed it is probably impacting every thought and action (or lack of!) every minute of the day.
Find out as much about depression as you can. This will help you to understand more about it and what I am going through, and will also communicate to me in a very real way that you are interested.

Maybe read some of the stories that other people have written about their experiences with depression. There are some on the depressioNet site under Your Stories. My experience and thoughts and feelings might not be the same, but many of the more general feelings of hopelessness etc often are. It can be hard for me to explain and when you read about someone else, there is not such a strong emotional element for you.

It will also help me to talk to you about how I feel if you know that it is 'normal' for people with depression to feel this way. I won't have to worry about you feeling guilty or to blame in any way for the way I am feeling.

9. Talk to me about what I find helpful.
Make it an easy, normal conversation for me. Know that your love and support do make a difference, and approach the conversation in a positive way. Ask me what things help me. Learn to talk about depression with me in the same way that you would talk about any other illness I may have. I may find different things helpful than others do. Talk to me about things that you have read, ask me how I feel, and what I find helpful for you to do when I am feeling this way.

And remember, I am very fortunate to have someone who cares about me as much as you do, and I know it even if I am not able to tell you or show you.

10. Take care of you...
It can be hard to be there for me at times. Have some support for yourself.


Janet, great post! I have been looking for some kind of 'sticky' for the depression forum along others and this one is really good, so thanks for doing that. I really like the first 3 points...
She actually e-mailed me back and said that both the article and the site were helpful! This is good. They (my dad and step mom) have only recently begun to look up depression, anxiety and ptsd. I think this particular article helped them to think of things a bit differently simply because it was written in first person.
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